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To Love Someone Dearly

Chapter Text

Lotor pushed his snowy hair back and sat on the edge of the bed in the dark. The castle was quiet for now. Allura had directed the ship to the unknown regions of space. They were floating in the silence waiting for their next clue. Lotor had been studying the massive collection of information that the castle held in its large databanks. He had not spoken of what he was looking for, stating that the search was important to their next move... Which was the truth. He had never told a lie to them.

He growled deep in his throat as his fingers gripped the collar plate of his armour. Slowly, relishing every ones’ absence, he removed the armour pieces and subsequently his tunic. His boots were the last to go. They thudded to the metal floor in a heap, mirroring the half-breed prince to his bed. For a moment, he closed his eyes and actually relaxed. It had been too long since Lotor had fully let his guard down and the process of keeping up his many facades was becoming exhausting.

For once, his young face was uncovered, and the weight of his experiences showed in his yellow eyes. Years and memories etched trenches in his green irises and his countenance stretched to one of pain and doubt. The glimpse was shattered within seconds, however. He pulled himself together and stretched his well-muscled, lavender, arms before sitting up once again. His calculating gaze took stock of the small room the Paladin’s had offered.

It was a cramped room with sparse furniture consisting of a nightstand, bed, and a desk. The washroom was tiny and adjacent to an even smaller, empty, closet. He wouldn’t say he was grateful for the quarters, but he would certainly like to keep it as long as he stayed here. It was nice to have some sort of privacy…

Privacy to think and rest and have a moment to really ponder his plans for the future. Of late, he had frequently been needing this time to centre himself. Especially since he had been spending so much time with her.

Allura. She was a flaw in so many ways, yet he couldn’t help but feel some sort of attraction towards her. He was still unsure what these feelings she conjured in him were exactly… She was certainly beautiful and on several occasions these past few days he has had to chastise himself for staring. Such animalistic attractions were weak, distracting. He told himself that many times every day. Truth be told, he was getting tired of hearing it.

Another growl escaped his lips. His thoughts were going no where with her. It seemed they would remain in this odd limbo till one of them caved and decided to bring it up to the other. He vowed to not be that person.

Lotor reigned his feelings the way he had been doing all his life. He was an expert by now… That thought also depressed him. He ran his hands through his hair, unable to even think in peace. His frown deepened as his memories relentlessly came back to him, nagging him. He pushed the childhood thoughts away however. He pushed everything away. He even pushed consciousness away from him as he lay back down on the soft bed.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t push the dreams away.

Chapter Text

Lotor stood defiantly before his father in the command room. The young half-breed was two heads shorter than the towering figure before him, yet the flame burning inside of the prince was much more formidable than any physical prowess he held. If only his father could see that. “I cannot do this. The ancient tomes can hold so much…” he said quietly but trailed off. Lotor’s stone gaze wavered slightly as the rage slowly eclipsed his father’s stoic face.

The hand came fast, Lotor had half anticipated it, bringing his hand up to partially block the blow. However, his father’s gigantic gauntlet held more than enough power to knock the young prince down onto the floor. His father’s monotone voice spoke condescendingly, “You will learn to let these relics perish or you will die. They are meaningless.”

The monster’s boots thudded past him to the bridge of the ship, leaving a bruised Lotor on the cold metal floor. As the blast door shut and the explosions began, Lotor screwed his eyes closed and held back the fury welling up inside of him.

XxX

Lotor’s purple lids flicked open. He lay still in the dark for a moment, reigning in all of the emotions the memory had brought to bear. It was an old one; one he had not faced for many years. Strange. He shook the last remnants of the thoughts away and looked at the clock mounted to the wall. The night was nearly worn away.

He sat up, kicking his strong legs over the side of the bed and stretching. As he stood and wandered to the wash basin to tame his long white mane, he pondered the meaning of the dream. He remembered that day faintly, it was so long ago. The tomes he had been protecting from his father’s love of mindless carnage had been a horde of ancient star maps. They had been sacred to a people group Lotor had long forgotten the name, another people wiped out by the Galran Empire. Lotor had been negotiating long before Zarkon had come to ruin the entire process. A flicker of that earlier anger returned to him… He had been so close to being able to access them…

Lotor placed the comb down and gripped the edge of the basin. He really needed to get a grip. He took a few cooling breaths before carefully pulling the pieces of his scattered thoughts together. It was an exercise he had learned in his youth. As his breathing regulated and his muscles relaxed he pulled the plans for today to the forefront of his mind. He supressed a smirk and lifted his head. He left his quarters quietly. He would return to the databanks before anyone got there.

As his boots clicked down the dim hallways, he planned his course of searching for today. He would begin where he had left off last night and get at least eight chapters done before breakfast. He was startled as he moved into the room and saw the princess’ slender form hunched over a glittering holo map. He quickly clamped down on his surprise and said smoothly, “Good morning, princess.”

Allura flashed him a sweet smile. “Good morning, Lotor.” Her light voice picked up an eager tone. “I found this map in the data-pool. It is different than the others.”

Lotor’s interest piqued as he moved to her side, inhaling and ignoring the floral smell of her cologne. His bright yellow eyes scanned the indicated portion of the map. For a moment, he was unsure what she meant by “different” but then he saw it. On a tiny corner of the map there was an interesting change of star routes. “I see it,” he said, running through the many galactic regions in that area of the universe.

“I have never come across this one. I wonder why it is different?” She mused with him.

Lotor stroked his chin and thought about it. The fact that maps was a seeming theme for today was not lost on him. Indeed, the correlation with his previous dream made the finding that much more enticing… Though, part of him dictated the swap to be a mistake, the other, hungry, testing part of him told him it was there for a reason. He spoke as a spark of suggestion came into his mind, “To hide something, perhaps?”

Allura’s sapphire eyes brightened as she followed down his line of thought. “Maybe.” She leaned down to scrutinise the map again. “They diverge from the original here.”

His eyes tracked her finger as it moved down the twisting line marking the route. He marvelled how she noticed such a tiny spot on such a large map… Focus.

“Here it returns to the original route found on the other maps of this region,” she continued. “I don’t know anything in that sector of importance. Do you?” She looked up at him.

Lotor narrowed his eyes, wracking his brain. “No,” he finally confessed. “It is feasible no one knows because this map maker hid it,” he amended.

Allura nodded. “Do you think we should follow this lead?”

His brow furrowed as he weighed the importance of this finding. “Let us see if there are any other mentions of this region in your databanks,” he replied confidently. He turned to the console on his right. It flowered to life, lighting the room with a distinct blue hue.

Allura gave a curt nod in acknowledgement. “Alright,” she chirped.

He smiled knowing he was safe from her view. This could very well be of great importance…

Chapter Text

Lotor raked his slender hands through his white hair. He and the princess had been combing through numerous files and texts for many hours. No one had bothered the two so far (an anomaly in the lonely castle) since they had begun and Lotor and Allura had accomplished a large amount of work. He himself had honestly enjoyed the silence and solitude. Indeed, he was somewhat proud of how much he had been able to rifle through even if he had not found anything worthy of extra examining yet. He preferred to study under such conditions… A soft shifting behind him pulled him from his thoughts… Ah yes… The princess…

Allura was a different story, altogether. The Altean had been growing progressively restless as time marched ever onwards. The absence of any real progress in their search for knowledge was not helping. She had been certain her earlier finding would have had something tied to it.

Finally, she closed the holopad she had been reading and leaned back into the chair she was occupying. He could feel her evaluating him from behind, staring a hole through him. It was an unnerving feeling to be in such a vulnerable position. His instincts nagged him to turn and face his enemy… wait enemy? He quickly shot down on the rogue contemplation. It was a debate he need not enter with himself. Instead, he relented partially to training and half turned to face the princess. “I take it you did not find anything of use?” He asked smoothly before turning his eyes back to the bright screen in front of him and initiating the shut down of the open panels.

She gave a soft sigh. He could imagine her leaning forward and resting her head in her hands. “No,” was her simple reply.

“Perhaps we should discontinue the search then,” he said half-serious as he closed the panel. He faced her and crossed his arms, thinking. He certainly hoped he had not spent an entire day on a wild Okapii chase for her sake. At least you took out a large chunk of intel for your ‘personal’ searches, he reminded himself.

Surprisingly, Allura shook her head. “We can’t give up…” her eyes gained an odd light to them Lotor had not seen. “If we cannot find anything here, we will have to discover it ourselves. It will not be difficult to wormhole there.”

Lotor raised an eyebrow. The resolve and assurance in her voice was palpable. “You believe this is of actual importance?” He questioned, hiding his slight alarm and testing her reasons. It was difficult to not make his voice chiding because he last thing he wanted was for the princess to become distracted from their ultimate task. He did not wish to travel. He did not wish for her to become entangled in something irrelevant. He had already noticed the princess was quite strong-willed but also impulsive and easily drawn into tangents. He was beginning to curse her discovery but reigned in his patience.

She looked doubtful for only a moment then nodded. “I believe it.”

Lotor dipped his head, unsure now. “You are the princess, my lady,” he said formally. “Maybe you are correct.”

Allura’s cobalt eyes hardened slightly and her eyebrow twitched. “You believed me before,” she accused, wondering why the sudden change in the prince’s behaviour. He was difficult to read and had the emotional cyphers of a rock.

Lotor kept his face stoic. “Princess, I am merely reserved about a trip into the unknown regions. However, if you think this does not constitute a deviation of our mandate, I will not protest… I am a prisoner on this ship for all intents and purposes. In any case, I am forced to follow you,” he added otiosely.

The princess stood from her chair not sure how she felt about the grandiose brass in his voice. She decided to ignore it rather than try to place his thoughts. It would be impossible anyways. “Good. I will inform the other Paladins,” she said swiftly leaving Lotor alone in the room.

He stood thinking alone for a few seconds. He had no idea why he had said that. It is true... “You made her upset,” he grumbled quietly to himself. Deciding not to trouble the princess any further he turned back to the piles of holopads around him. At least now he could put his full attention to what he had intended to study today: the ancient world.

 

Chapter Text

“But princess,” Coran began before being cut off by Altean woman.

“Coran, this may be important to our mission. If, Lotor thinks we should look into it then I think we better check it out.” She met her friend and colleague’s eyes and lowered her voice to a more suspicious tone. “He was trying very hard to make me think it was no longer important even after we spent hours researching it.” Her shining eyes hardened with her belief. “I am sure know there is something out there of importance.” A glimmer of hope tinted her words, “Perhaps even pertaining to Altean alchemy,” she finished.

Coran had nodded through the entire discourse of the princess. What she said made sense, though he still harboured some wariness… It sounded like a decent start to there newest quest for alchemy-related information. He hummed before answering. It was obvious anyways the princess had made her mind. “Alright, I will prepare for departure,” he said.

XxX

Lotor quietly shut the door behind him as he left the databanks. He could feel the ship readying itself for a jump, so he made his way towards the bridge. It was a short, lonely walk through the azure-hued hallways.

He was beginning to reconsider having doubted Allura. Whatever the reason the map maker omitted the star routes, it was an anomaly of interest to his supressed curious spirit. A distant, young hunger, hidden since childhood, bubbled just under his skin. The feelings were taboo. Even so, the more he toyed with the idea the stronger the notions grew. Doing something just for the interest of doing it…. it was a foreign suggestion and tantalisingly irresistible… No. A heavy handed defiance slapped him mentally. It was the strong shadow of his heritage and upbringing. Like a thick steel clamp, it bound up the rogue feelings and cast them aside, bringing up a memory of long ago as if that were a good reason to drown his yearnings.

 

“Lotor!! You miserable spawn, get up.”

A large hand powerfully gripped his shoulder and lifted him painfully up. Lotor could only whimper.

His father’s angered voice boomed. “Stay out of here or I will give you to the hound,” he threatened as he threw the small lavender boy into the hallway and shut the door.

 

Lotor sniffed at the memory. It was nothing to him now. His father had merely been too overworked at the time and had pitched his outrage on his young son… “It is only more proof of his instability,” he mumbled only to himself beneath his breath.

By then he had reached the massive bridge of the castle… It was obvious… The princess had evidently told everyone but him that they would be leaving. Shiro was standing stiffly at her side, awaiting a jump. The others had taken their respective places, sitting in deep chairs that had seemingly come up from the castle’s floor. No one even seemed to notice his arrival, so he decided to remain hidden for now, watching like a wild cat. Scrutinising the flow of their preparations and reading the hierarchy of the team.

And they were a great team. A fluid one. The humans had integrated nearly seamlessly into the Altean ship’s rigid routines. The lightness and the bonds each of them clearly held for each other was evident… And a weakness. Together they stood strong but if one of them fell… That one would bring down the entire team. Like Voltron whom they commanded. One could only be strong in the presence of the others.

“Hey Lotor! Buckle up unless you want to splatter on the wall,” a young, smug voice belonging to Lance broke into his thoughts. The other Paladin’s turned their attention to their previously silent observer.

Lotor did not attempt to hide his disdain. Instead of replying to the human pest, he glanced towards Allura who still looked somewhat irritated… or perhaps just deep in concentration. “I am curious as to why this jump is different than the others,” he stated inquisitively. 

Her face softened slightly. “The area we have charted is in the middle of a cosmic storm. Coran predicts it will be a bumpy ride. Please sit down, Lotor,” she said politely. Despite how frustrated he had made her earlier, hearing the innocence of his curiosity was always... She didn’t allow herself to continue the thoughts.

Lotor finally nodded. Internally, he was puzzled, but perhaps the princess had merely taken into consideration his reservations and deemed them as they were, frank observations and not personal doubts? He went with that reasoning and decided to take a light mood and attempt a reconciliation. He dipped his head and replied almost sweetly, “As you wish, my lady.”

And with that, Lotor settled into a secure crew chair that had risen from the floor. He couldn’t help but wonder about the last time someone else’s feelings had meant so much to him. It felt like a danger, a looming threat… but part of him also liked it... And to his derision… He was beginning to think he liked it a lot.

Chapter Text

The castle erupted violently out of a roiling wormhole. The ambient lighting immediately changed to a deep crimson glow. Several bleeping alarms sounded as the entirety of the ship shook forcefully. Lotor braced himself against the seat, gripping the armrests in an attempt to fight the inertia overcoming everyone in the chamber. “What happened?” He barked, struggling to keep his voice smooth amongst the bucking ride.

Allura stood struggling to keep her balance where she had stood opening the portal. “Coran!” She edged out the name through gritted teeth.

The Altean man did not look up from frantically pressing buttons. “There is a massive solar storm in this area,” he said tersely. However, the roughness in his voice disappeared at the same moment that the fierce pitching of the ship died. “We stabilised the castle for right now.”

Pidge added from the back of the room. “According to my calculations, we have three hours till the next solar shift. There is a small probability it may occur spontaneously, but…” She righted her glasses. “I am highly doubtful,” she finished.

Lotor’s yellow eyes flicked from the small human to Allura. She looked to be recovering quite quickly from the previous exertion. “You knew this was the state of the system?” He had to bite down the remark that perhaps storms were the reason someone had omitted the route from the records.

Allura did not meet his gaze. “There was a possibility we would encounter this –”

Her words were cut off by Coran’s exclamation. “Princess!” The moustached man tore his eyes from his screen to look out the main viewport.

All other gazes swept to the swirling starscape before them. Lotor’s eyes widened slightly. Few things surprised him, but the view was both baffling and eerie at the same time.  

“Is that…” Shiro looked lost for words. He wasn’t the only human to have such a reaction.

“That looks just like earth!” Lance yelped incredulously.

Lotor filed all the information away as he surveyed the view through the castle’s panorama. The scene was a peculiar one, indeed. A cluster of planets in close orbit around each other hung in gaseous space. Amidst the roiling red gases, each planet was an almost perfect twin to its neighbours. Mottled white cloud patterns dotted over much of the blue and green globe. Land masses were easily distinguishable on the worlds… Again, they were nearly identical.

“How do they all look the same?” Hunk asked, breaking the awed silence that had fallen over the team.

“I don’t know…” Pidge admitted.

Lotor’s first instinct told him it was a trick, an illusion. But he quelled the idea as others shrugged or merely turned back to their monitors puzzled and searching for answers.

Allura cocked her head. “I have never seen anything like it.” She looked down at Lotor and he had to fight hard in order to not smirk when Shiro’s face stretched into utter disapproval to her next words. “Lotor, will you accompany me to the surface?” She amended her words slowly. “Your knowledge of ancient texts may be useful.”

“Now, wait a moment, Allura,” Shiro said raising a palm. “We shouldn’t rush into things.”

The princess kept her eyes resting on Lotor. “Don’t worry, I think we will be quite alright. Like I said, I may find his knowledge helpful. He did help me find this place to begin with. We will be fine.” she assured.

 

Chapter Text

For one last time, Lotor ran his eyes over the supplies in his backpack. He was uncertain what exactly they would find on the mysterious planet below, but one thing was certain. Scans of the surface showed a landscape teeming with a dense population of lifeforms. Indeed, Lotor would have never guessed that the seemingly remote world would house anything other than wild beasts. However, Coran had even picked up on some forms of communications going to and from the continents dotting the green and blue sphere. It was remarkable that such a (what they were assuming was at least a somewhat advanced) race to occupy a planet and leave no mark on it…The concept caused Lotor’s mind to buzz with questions and theories. Budding plans blossomed slowly in his thoughts…

It would revolve entirely on their findings in this new world. He glanced up into the doorway to see Allura. He couldn’t help but notice how loveable she looked in the rugged, olive poncho that hung over her alabaster armour. Nor could he ignore how stunning her snowy mane looked when it was weaved in a thick braid. The entire outfit gave her a seasoned look entirely at odds with the youthful excitement barely hidden in her brilliant cerulean gaze. She was ready for this. She had been ready for this since she had stumbled upon the old Altean map that had led them here. Once again, he mused why she had been so taken with this notion.

She interrupted his thoughts with an eager tone. “Are you ready?” She asked.

Lotor felt a small smile tug at the corner of his mouth. “Yes,” he replied as he slipped his pack over his broad shoulders. “I think we shall have all we need.”

Allura nodded. “Alright.” Her voice took on a slightly more tentative tone. “I don’t think you have ever rode in Blue yet?”

Lotor followed the princess out the door, keeping his stride steady in pace to hers as they moved down to the hanger. “No, I have not had the pleasure,” he stated, he kept his voice low. A flicker of anticipation ignited his soul, but he kept it carefully hidden under the surface.

She nodded her acknowledgement and then asked curiously. “Have you ever seen Voltron before or the Lions? Like when you were younger,” she clarified.

Lotor was surprised at the question and he could not cover up the stiffness that came naturally to his stance when his past was spoken of. As his memory stretched far, he could feel her watching him with soft eyes. It made him entirely uncomfortable. It was… unnatural. He grappled with what he was going to say for another moment, while the anxiety coursed deeper through him. Finally, as they entered the lift that would take them to the hangers, he said simply. “I did glimpse the lions in array on one occasion.”

Again, she nodded, clearly seeing his dislike for reliving whatever was going on in his mind. She couldn’t comprehend what the man had been through in his long life. The visceral feelings of bias she held towards his species were slowly being replaced by a primal desire just as deeply engrained within her. The more she learned about his past from him, the more difficult it was to see him as the threat he could be. Yet, still, a nagging corner of her mind warned her. It echoed the cautions which years of war had instilled inside of her. He was a beast, not to be trusted under any circumstances. All of the lies he was raised with clung to him like an odour that could not be washed away… Forever? She was unsure.

Finally, the lift hissed open. No one broke the painful silence till they stood face to face with the massive blue lion. She sat idle, towering in strength of power that Lotor could almost feel like an enveloping energy around the massive machine…

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Allura asked.

He glanced down at the Altean princess “Yes,” he replied in agreement. He motioned politely for the princess to enter first. She grinned and made her way towards Blue –

He was only able to take two steps forward when a massive wave of excruciating energy ran through him, blasting him backwards and contorting his muscles. Heat and agonising waves of pain rolled through him, distorting his body mid-flight. He landed with an exclaimed oomph, stunned, on the hard floor a couple meters away.

“Blue!” Allura turned her angry gaze to the lion, shocked at what she saw and worried at the same time.

Lotor let out a strained growl as he struggled to get his arms under him. Stars danced in his vision. His fingers burned, and his sensitive ears rang loudly, throwing his orientation into a torrent of conflicting signals. His breath was coming irregularly, and he focused on relaxing the spasming muscles in his chest.

Allura rushed to the smoking half-Galra and knelt down beside him, less worried for Blue’s reasons than for Lotor’s state. Her hands gently gripped his shoulder. She was not expecting what happened next.


 

“Tell me why!” An adolescent, half Galran prince spoke with rage thick in his voice. It nearly hid the fear in his words.

A large framed Galran twice the size of Lotor sneered. “I don’t need to tell you anything,” he said gruffly. “And right now, I’m going to teach you a lesson on that.” He moved forward menacingly, pushing the tacticians’ tables out of the way with ease. The other recruits kept their eyes strictly pasted to their screens.

Lotor stood his ground. The glimmer of fear glazed over with raw pride as Lotor met the drill master’s eyes. He bit his tongue as the other’s shadow fell over him. In a flash of movement, Lotor was thrown back loudly. His back hit the computer terminal as he was viciously backhanded. Crimson rage invaded his sight but as he raised a fist to hit back, the Galra brought a knee forcefully into Lotor’s stomach.

Lotor was hardly able to snatch a breath as the Galra leaned down over the bent prince. His large hand gripped the whelp’s shoulder. Thick talons sank deeply into Lotor’s shoulder, drawing blood easily. “I don’t care if you are royalty, scat. When you are in my company, you never question anything.


 

Lotor flinched, stiffening instantly at the touch and lashed out instinctively in fear and defence. Animalistic impulse coursed through him, overriding the panic that shot through his mind before his consciousness realised what he was doing… He felt an impact as his previously dead arm flung across Allura’s torso –

Reality finally slapped him in the face and he pulled his leaden arm back, but damage had been done.  

Allura fell back shocked and confused. Her instincts kicked in and instantly her bayard was in her hand. Confliction whirled violently in her head, but she needed to protect herself. She found her legs despite the throbbing pain in the pit of her stomach. “Halt!” She ordered curtly.

Lotor fought with his muddled brain to collect the pieces and emotions spilling out of his frazzled mind, but her clear words cut through the fog. “Allura,” he ground out. His body was weak. It strained to push him onto his feet. He stood unbalanced and feeling entirely out of control of the situation. Danger sent alarms rushing through him and his eyes widened significantly when he noticed the bayard in her hands. Wobbling slightly, he raised his hands. “Allura, please.” The adrenaline was working hard to twist through the smoke in his head. “I didn’t mean –”

She cut him off sharply. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” he said plainly. His eyes softened. A deep regret was worming its way into his stomach, throwing him on the verge of being sick. “I didn’t mean to hit you,” he said as genuinely as he could. Somehow, the words sounded hollow and wrong. He forced himself to meet her eyes. Inside, everything was falling apart. Roaring memories threatened to break the walls he had long built up and he had no idea why he suddenly felt so weak.

The princess stood tensely for a handful of seconds. Hesitantly, she lowered her weapon. “Okay,” she said as she let out a breath and put her bayard away. “It was just a mistake,” she stated, sounding as if she were talking more to herself.

Lotor nodded. His body was recovering well, but his spirit felt crushed. She couldn’t hide the pain he had caused her. She couldn’t hide the hurt in her eyes. It stabbed daggers through him. “I hope you are alright,” he offered, confused on how to fix everything.

She faked a small smile. “I am.” She turned to Blue. “Let Lotor on this time. Really, we must go. Come, Lotor. She won’t do that again.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the ride was silent. Lotor cursed the silence. It only seemed to fill his already anxious mind with more disquiet. As he stood behind the princess and watched the expanding horizon of the planet they were heading towards, he could hardly contain his racing mind. Guilt continued to gnaw on him as Lotor ran the previous incident through his mind over and over. It would do nothing to change the situation they were in, he vainly reminded himself.

He ran his sharp gaze over the bleeping interior of the lion… “Blue” …. The novelty of riding as passenger in the lion was not lost on him. He felt a hint of excitement rush through him and it nearly chased away his personal regrets of the earlier happening. The space was larger than he had initially estimated. It was a sparse cockpit with several displays and some controls but otherwise filled only with clean lines. The pilot’s chair, now occupied with a nervous Allura, was large, seemingly engulfing her form but not dwarfing it. Absently, Lotor wondered if the lions could evolve their controls… even such mundane things as the seats… to their present Paladin.

Lotor slid his gaze over her. He did not… If he were honest with himself could not… watch her as she deftly piloted the lion into the grey atmosphere. The clouds concealed high, snow-peaked mountains with jagged faces of black stone. The sky was a crisp blue and the feet of the majestic highlands were swathed in dark fog. It was almost breath-taking in its rugged beauty, but his eyes darted to the main display when a small ping echoed through the cockpit. Allura did not seem troubled, however, and answered the hailing with a string of codes typed into a holographic keyboard.

She hoped she was doing decently in hiding the tenseness she still felt. Indeed, the princess could feel his heavy presence standing behind her. She hadn’t felt him staring anymore but he seemed to be somewhat off… She shook the thoughts away from her as a strong voice crackled over the comms. She almost sighed in relief when she recognised it was Shiro.

“Allura”— A ripple of static filled the air for a second followed by clarity once more. “We are tracking you as best we can, but the interference from the mountains is giving our sensors a rough time. Please, use caution and if you need back up for any reason, go above the peaks,” he ordered.

Allura nodded. “Understood. Thank you, Shiro.” She decidedly added, “We should not be too long. It seems there is nothing here.”

“That may be. I trust your judgement princess. It is a strange planet, I am sure there is something.” Shiro took a deep breath before continuing… but another voice broke in before he could speak.

It was Lance. “I trust you too. The universe probably didn’t send us here for nothing.”

Allura felt a small smile tug at the corner of her mouth. “How very comforting, Lance,” she replied dryly. Her smile communicated how much of the sarcasm was a lie.

Shiro’s baritone took over once again. “Lance may have a point. In any case, stay safe as you search.”

“I will,” she promised before closing the line.

“There is a ridge where we can land to the north…” He stopped himself.  “That is, if you wish to land, princess.” A massive feeling of unease was blossoming deep in his chest. Watching the way they changed her… It was… He set his jaw, pushing the feelings into the abyss. He had had enough for today. 

Allura glanced up at him. His tone had changed significantly but when she met his eyes the golden globes were soulless.  Confused, but not wishing to question his erratic feelings right now, she merely replied. “Oh, yes.” She turned her eyes outside and immediately noticed the landing space he had pointed out. Skilfully, she set Blue down.

She leaned back into the chair and quietly blew out a breath. The apprehension in the air was going to make her sick. Tentatively, she wondered if bringing Lotor with her had been a good idea. She twisted in her seat when she heard his boots click away. She only caught a glimpse of his white hair as he left her all alone.

A glimmer of anger at his moodiness shot through her, but she stifled the feelings. He is just feeling guilty for earlier. At least he felt something from it, she reasoned. Still… It was not what she wished to be dealing with during this mission. Taking another deep breath, she stood to go after him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Lotor.” Allura stepped down into the cold air outside. Her sapphire eyes caught his form standing several metres away from the lion and surveying the landscape.

He pretended not to hear her and kept his hard gaze on the grey terrain surrounding them. A harsh wind occasionally cut through the chill atmosphere, snatching his puffing breath into oblivion. He focused on controlling that breathing.

Allura took a few steps towards him but stopped. Her roaming mind thought him to resemble a panther in that moment, standing so still, watching and waiting like a white-maned predator. A pang of pity put out the remnants of her annoyance from him rushing out earlier. It even washed away the anxiety from his outburst in the hanger. She realised the danger of it, but it was irresistible to let her guard down. She wanted to crush him in a hug or touch his hand like she had done so many other times with her friends… But she couldn’t. He wouldn’t let her.

Her eyes softened despite the pain, and she called him again, “Lotor.”

He finally turned his head and forced a minuscule smile. His emotions were in control again and he could finally concentrate. The blatant temperature was addictively clearing to his head.

“I was merely scouting our landing place, princess,” he said stoically. He moved to her side, turning his gaze now to the precipice to the east. “Where do you wish to begin exploring?” He asked in a business-like tone. There was something he could not read in her eyes and it lit so many sirens in his head. Thankfully his words seemed to distract her.

She appeared to revert back to the present and she scanned the region around them. “I am not sure,” she said uncertainly. To tell the truth, I am not even sure why I came here.” That doubt was rising in her chest again.

He pursed his lips. “Well, if it has anything to do with Altean alchemy then perhaps you can find a connexion here.” He shifted closer. Watching her use her inherent abilities always mesmerised him. His stomach tightened unfamiliarly. It promised the last effort to shake him back into focus. “Stretch out with your essence. Your inner fire,” he said mellifluously. 

The princess closed her eyes and he watched with a feline focus as she calmed herself. Her breathing slowed and Lotor felt the ghost of a touch stir within him. It always happened when she hyperfocused on using her Altean energy and he was within close proximity of her. A vestige of his mother? He shook the thoughts and attempted to chase the susurrating sensation whilst Allura focused.

It was like grasping oil in the hand; chasing after a fleeting shadow. He closed his eyes. A flash of white dazzled him, a hideous memory almost surfacing. His heavy walls closed around the danger. A blurry image formed in his mind, it was not unlike anything he had seen with his physical eyes: a burning flame. A lit candle. Without notice, the light disappeared. A spike of rogue urgency drove through him. His chase erupted again. Nothing. His mind frantically attempted to connect once more. No. Calm. A battle fought in him. A million voices and memories tugged, suddenly demanding his attention. Stop – He broke away, gaining control of his breathing within moments. A deep tiredness was settling over him.

Seconds later, Allura opened her own eyes. “We should head that way.” She pointed northwards. She did not give any indication of knowing the fiasco Lotor had just endured.

Lotor nodded, hiding his fatigue. “Please, lead the way princess,” he said ultra-smooth.

She smiled and began in that direction. The terrain was rough but as they moved across the stony wilderness small trees and shrubs began to fill the wilds. It was warmer away from the winds that swept the cliff they had landed on.

Small creatures with auburn fur and long, thick tails occasionally startled the pair as they moved through the dense underbrush. On one occasion the princess pulled her Bayard on a doe-eyed, striped ungulate. Lotor had laughed heartily and the princess had nearly turned around and shot him; shocked at hearing the mirth come from him for the first time. She had been far more reserved on drawing her weapon after that. Small talk had followed the incident and Lotor could not deny he enjoyed it.

They had continued, the two of them wandering for nearly an hour and a half. Lotor dutifully followed the princess over rock and root, but as the sun went past the point of midday, he could tell she was losing her confidence again. “Allura,” he began… There was no way for him to say this easily. “I am beginning to think that what we seek is not on this particular mountain.”

Allura lowered her head. “I was sure I felt something,” she reasoned.

Lotor took a deep breath. Her stubbornness was palpable. “You are certain?” He questioned firmly.

She opened her mouth to repeat herself but stopped short. “I don’t know,” she finally confessed, dropping her shoulders. She was beginning to feel like this mission was a foolish waste.

He pressed his lips together. Her despair was not going to help them find whatever it was that Allura had felt. He was fairly sure himself that there was something on the planet… He had not been able to connect to his Altean side before… not like the way he had been able to here and he did not believe in coincidences. “What did you feel? Perhaps…” His deep voice fell.

Allura eyes turned quizzical. “What is it?” She watched him as he knelt down and brushed a long finger through the dark topsoil.

A silvery line in the dirt had caught his eye. He gently scraped a talon over cold metal. As Allura carefully came to his side, he brushed the rest of the dirt off the large slab of silvery metal. Inscriptions decorated the corners of what was looking to be a large square box, about half a metre on each side and imbedded into the ground.

Allura gasped. “That’s Altean!”

Chapter Text

Lotor’s eyebrow arched surprised. He looked up at her for reassurance.

She dropped to her knees carefully as she inspected the flowing script engraved on the tarnished silver. “Yes,” she finally answered. “This is a verse of some sort.” Her brow knit together as she attempted to decipher the old dialect.

Lotor watched patiently waiting for her to translate the letters. He had not recognised the script and wondered how she knew them. He filed the information away for further questioning. He was hesitant to disturb her.

“Dark then light, North then West

Ocean, river, stream or lake

Not our path to take

Under frosted face

Enter with the sun’s first kiss.”

She spoke the words slowly, wondering what meaning the riddle pointed to. She felt him staring and glanced back to meet Lotor’s amber gaze. “It sounds like a riddle,” she pointed the obvious out.

A musing expression passed over Lotor’s face and he absently brought a hand to brush his chin. Options and reasoning ran through his calculating mind. His eyes looked over the box. It has directions… presumably to a key,” he offered. The lock was not heavy and Lotor wagered he could force the item open without such an instrument.

Briefly, his thoughts wandered to why such an artefact would be buried in these mountains. His curiosity longed to know the history of the region, indeed, of the entire planet. Some of his wild ideas held momentous repercussions, and some could be explained by something as mundane as a simple act of personal tribute to the future by some ancient Altean…. But Allura had been drawn here and he could not belittle that fact.

The princess cocked her head, looking down to inspect the metal case once again. She slid her fingers along the edges still half caked into the tough earth. “What do you think is inside?” She asked rhetorically. Her own interest was rising quickly with the thought of what this ancient gift could be.

Lotor could sense the princess’ rising excitement. It was frighteningly contagious. A stinging urge to cater to her inquisitiveness caught his focus and he had to fight to keep himself focused on what had brought them here. This could be more than just a simple piece of the past for Allura to treasure... The impulse and his own need to satisfy the mystery won in the end. He found himself digging out the rest of the buried box. “Let us find out,” h said determinedly.

Allura helped him pull the lodged piece of metal out from the dark soil. It was lighter than she had thought it would be and much thinner than she had initially thought. It almost resembled a dirty, metal ration box, except much wider. A small lock held the thing closed.

Lotor first attempted to take his blade and wiggle the frail looking lock open. However, he quickly gave up when the stubborn metal suffered not even a scratch. “We may need to take it to the castle,” he finally confessed trying not to sound frustrated. “There we can open it.”

Allura hid her disappointment. “You may be right,” she agreed. She looked around. “I wonder if there is anything else like this on this mountain… Like a key?”

Lotor raised his eyebrows, liking what line of thought the princess was going down.  His memory was drawn back to inscription the princess had spoken. “Perhaps your riddle shows us a way,” he offered.

“Yes.” A radiant eagerness passed over her face as The princess turned her attention back to the words. Her sparkling eyes took on a distant expression as she ran the syllables through her mind.

He watched her intently as she worked through the verse. A familiar want was blossoming in his chest and despite his reluctance to open himself up again… It was exceptionally tempting to just stare. A flutter tickled his stomach watching the intensity of her concentration. She was gorgeous, and as the mystery unravelled itself under her intellect he was more drawn to the woman. You need to focus. The bluntness of his sensible side rivalled with his animal cravings.

Stop it. This is stupid. Wasn’t it not three hours ago when he had been completely unable to look at her? His desires confused and irritated him, tearing his soul in half. A taboo thought occurred to him. Why could he not take her? Could he not have it both ways? The suggestion held a luring merit. It promised him relief from carnal desires and also refuge from any sort of real connexion – Stop.

He clamped down on the ideas, turning his head away from her to hide the heat rising to his cheeks, utterly against his will. It was the first time any notion of sexual tension had ever even entered his mind. Part of him was shocked; the other half completely unimpressed. Of course, she was a beautiful and how could he not notice…

“Right?” Allura’s slightly concerned voice broke into his thoughts.

Lotor’s head snapped back towards the princess. Heat compounded in his cheeks. It was vain to deny that he had not been listening to her. Instead, he strained to keep his voice level as he replied. “I’m sorry, what?”

Her nose scrunched, and she hardly supressed a smile. Thankfully, she did not take advantage of his embarrassment.

“We should head North for a day. Dark to light is a day, right?” She explained.

Lotor ran the verses through his head. It made good sense. “I agree.”

 A grin blossomed on her face. “Good! Let’s go!”

Still feeling shaken, but glad the princess was making headway in her endeavour, Lotor offered a small smile of his own. He couldn’t rid himself from the feeling that it looked shameful. She didn’t notice or show any signs of noticing, that is…

“Lead the way, princess,” he said politely. “I will carry this for now.” He hoisted the cumbersome box and tucked it under his arm. 

Chapter Text

With a grunt, Lotor hoisted himself over a rocky outcropping. His usually perfect silver locks where growing somewhat dishevelled. Sweat was permeating through his clothes giving him a chill in the low temperature. Evening was looming on the burning horizon. He placed the silver metal box onto a nearby stone and turned around to offer the princess his hand.

She was a considerable way down and looking quite determined not to notice his outstretched hand. He could tell she was tiring but was certain the princess would never admit to it.

“Allura,” he said her name softly but with enough command in his tone to get her attention.

She levelled him with a too-comfortable look… it was almost knowing. He mentally shook the distraction away from him and got onto his stomach to allow his arm to stretch more. A flare of electricity ran down his spine when she actually took it. He smirked and carefully aided her climb, relishing the feeling of her small form next to him when she scrabbled over the edge and rested beside him.

Dammit, what is wrong with this place? He was realising the longer he walked in this wilderness, the more his feral instincts were consuming him. Watching her in this environment, completely alone and confident. It was putting his reservations from this morning in the closet.

He rolled onto his back while she shifted to sit cross legged, taking a moment to breathe. “I did not think it would be this far out,” she said morosely. Her eyes wandered to the sky. “Who knew one cycle could last this long,” she added, growing glummer at the thought of any more hiking.

Lotor did not answer. He was having a mental wrestling match with himself about keeping focused on the mission.

She finally looked down at him. Seeing the prince laying on the dusty stone right next to her… It was surreal. It stirred a myriad of emotions in her and none of them were what she had expected. Allura had noticed the change in him as the wild permeated him… It was almost like a tide washing away the stoic, moody, man who had struck her earlier. In truth, she had already almost forgotten about that. It was ancient history… But he hasn’t even apologised. Well, not really…

She shook her head to clear the thoughts and just enjoyed the view of him. His gold eyes were distant with thoughts. Carefully, she broke the silence. “It will be dark soon.”

Lotor’s gaze snapped back to reality and he met her eyes for a second before flipping them to the sky. The shadows were lengthening in the dim forest. A wave of clouds could just be seen over the tops of the trees. They blushed a brilliant golden hue as the last rays of sunshine kissed their faces. He pushed himself up and nodded. “What do you wish to do?”

Allura swallowed. She couldn’t express the driving feeling humming just under her skin, but it goaded her onwards… towards the meaning of their finding. Yet, the verse from the box stated waiting till morning. Whatever entrance to whatever they were heading towards would only show itself by the light of the dawn. “We are so close,” she stated. Even she could hear the longing in her own voice.

Lotor met her sapphire gaze with understanding and a hint of sympathy. The conviction in her eyes was all the affirmation he needed. This was big. This was important. This could be powerful. He had doubts before but now looking into her eyes and being so close… with part of the puzzle in his hands… He was almost able to touch the invisible energy pulling the Altean princess forward. It was nearly as intoxicating as her.

It could have been the dying embers of sunlight dancing through the trees. It could have been the gentle breeze toying with her silky locks… Hell, it could have been her exotic fragrance that mingled so beautifully with the wild air.

A strong desire came over him, alarming him but also igniting his soul. It lit his senses on fire and he was overwhelmed with the foreign sensation … Emotions reared within him. His heart picked up pace and his breath caught, trying to keep up with the vigour of his pulse. The prince’s mind blanked; shutting out everything except her. The forest around him seemed to melt away. His searching, amber eyes flicked over her gaze, so captured was he with this princess in front of him.

His mouth moved on its own accord and, for the first time in his life, he felt no control over his words. “Patience,” he whispered hoarsely, more to himself than the princess.

She chuckled nervously, breaking his reverie. She blushed mightily.

Embarrassment shattered the dream like a dagger running through glass. Heat burned through the prince’s cheeks. He cast his eyes away as she suppressed another giggle.

It looked so good on her, but he kept his gaze straying in the woods. As he silently cursed himself, Lotor composed and levelled his voice. “I … meant…”

Allura cut him off “It’s okay. You are right. We need patience… as hard as that is right now,” she added, meaning to touch his shoulder in reassurance but catching herself quickly.

Lotor felt the sting of the gesture and his anger at himself flared once more.

She swiftly changed the subject. “We should make camp somewhere.”

Feeling the way he did right now, Lotor really did not want to, but the thought of a cold, long trek in the dark was drearier. He cleared his throat. It wasn’t like they had a choice either way. “That would be fine with me, princess.” He gave her a false smile. Inside he was ready to vomit. Too many contradictions whirled in his head and too many instincts roiled in the pit of his stomach.

Chapter Text

The two of them had found a dell where they had shelter from the rising east wind. Lotor busied his mind with starting a fire. The princess sat across from him, scrutinising the Altean box they had found earlier today. She had been attempting to open the blasted thing for some time.

At least the prospect of making shelter for the night had distracted him. He tried to block out the feelings that still reeled in him but strove to no avail. It was going to be something he needed to deal with sooner or later…

Part of him was growing concerned with the endeavour. What endeavour? He lost his gaze in the popping fire. It was a solid question. The princess conjured feelings in him. There. He had said it.

But did he think anyone could… care… for him?

***

“Ha,” his father barked the vile noise like something unnatural. “I care little of you and your feelings, Lotor.” The name was spoken with thick malice. “You are only what I deem, and even that is minuscule.”

Lotor raised his head, ice glazed over his golden irises. He showed no weakness. Such a failing would incur wrath that the half-galran prince had no intention of dealing with. The scars raking down his back still burned under his skin. The roaring crowd… the sweat and blood…

Lotor was thrown into an even deeper recollection. Indeed, they would dwell within his spirit for the rest of his life.

Exhaustion. An overcoming feeling that turned his arms to lead, making the most minute movement a colossal stretch. His small hands curled around his sword. Shining black talons pricked into the leather hilt. They would be his final defence should he fail. His fangs also could be used as a weapon… just as his instructor had shown him.

The half breed bared the white tips before his foe, a disabled Galra with a grave injury from an unsuccessful fight.

“The weak deserve only the chance they rolled at the beginning of the battle.”

The words echoed in his head. They rang in his ears as real as his charging scream.

***

He had won that night, returning triumphantly from the bloodshed.

***

“Father.” The faintest hint of excitement laced young Lotor’s voice. “Did you watch tonight’s gladiator pits?”

Zarkon remained silent, facing the whirring vidscreen in front of him.

Lotor tentatively continued, growing more cautious. “I fought tonight. I won.”

Zarkon finally turned to face his spawn. His dark countenance was impassive. His words were thick with mockery. “Do you think I care?” The last word dripped with searing sarcasm.  “Foolish boy.” The emperor’s large hand waved for the boy to come closer.

Lotor swallowed, feeling a stabbing pain deep down in his chest. His careful feet stepped slowly to his father’s side.

With a wave of his hand, Zarkon revealed the stars through the viewscreen.

Lotor’s yellow eyes flicked upwards to follow his father’s stone gaze: towards magnificent space.

“Your feeble victory is nothing. This. This empire is something far greater than any worthless contest you will ever fight. And it belongs to me. You are nothing until you take it.” A sick smile cracked across the Galra’s visage. “You will never take it.”

Lotor fought back tears at the icy scorn in his father’s voice. “But… why?”

Zarkon’s dark face looked down. Lotor felt a surge of panic, telling him to run. However, no physical strike came. “Because you will always be weak.”

***

He still remembered being ordered to report to his father. He pondered the meaning of the memory. They had given him honour but nothing else, prodding him to see Zarkon. To this day, Lotor wondered if it had been a test, a trial. He had settled on it having been just that, but they had seemed so genuine… sending him to tell the Emperor…

A flicker of movement shook him from his recollection. His amber eyes snapped up as Allura made her way to the fire. She gracefully sat on the ground across from him. A subtle wariness was in her eyes, but she attempted to sound cheerful and sincere. “Are you okay?”

Alarms rang through his skull. Lotor retained his composure as his heart skipped a beat, completely disconnected from his head. After a moment of silence his mouth caught up with the rest of him. He didn’t even think as he replied. “I am fine.”

Allura kept her façade up. She had expected the reply from him, but there was something else in his eyes. A distraction was throwing him off edge. There was even the slightest tinge of interest in his deep tones. It gave her hope for him and that hope lifted her spirits. A real smile crossed over her face. “That is good.”

An awkward silence followed. She broke it for his sake after several painful seconds. “I think I will attempt to contact the Castle and then settle down.” She watched him carefully for his reaction.

Lotor was aware of her scrutiny and nodded impassively. His voice was level, unsure as he was with the princess’ behaviour… with his own sentiments roaring in his spirit. “If they respond, I would appreciate an update.” The corner of his lip twitched with a smile.

She nodded, giving him a warm look and standing. “I will,” she promised.

Lotor watched her silently as she walked to the edge of the camp and retrieved her communications device from her small backpack. While the princess fiddled with the controls and whirring static joined the popping symphony of his fire, Lotor eased himself into something akin to meditation. He focused on gathering his thoughts and planning the next day instead of thinking about the small, determined woman sitting in the firelight next to him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lotor’s golden irises snapped to life. His sensitive hearing caught a faint shifting in the brush. The tip of his purple ear twitched, and he carefully surveyed the campsite, moving only his eyes.

Morning was quickly nearing, filling the forest with a soft blue-grey light. The smouldering embers of last night’s fire sat silently. Deep red ripples danced over the blackened logs. Allura leaned against a large stone protruding from the buttress of the dell. Her steady breathing and serene expression told him she was still unaffected and asleep.

Slowly, he leaned forward and glanced over the woodland with his sharp eyes. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but his ears still tickled with a sound just on the edge of perception. Languidly, he rose to his feet. Lotor crouched forward like a predator and he moved into the open.

Another subtle whisper in the breeze broke the morning quiet. His yellow gaze snapped towards the direction where it had emanated. His fingers found his small boot dagger, unsheathing the weapon. His muscles primed for assault.

The half-Galra prince was a split second faster than the wild animal, a blur of rich sable fur and maddened silver eyes, rushed forward with a horrific shriek.

Lotor did not flinch as the raucous noise afflicted his senses. The lean creature jumped for his face. Large raking claws came deathly near his chest.  Lotor swung his knife wide, almost catching the fractious animal on its way down from its previous leap. He was vaguely aware of Allura waking violently.

The creature hit the dirt hard on all fours. It scrabbled away from Lotor as he lunged to swipe it. It bared its dripping, frothing fangs.

Lotor showed his own tips, growling deeply. Rage surged through him in an instant, giving him strength.

The little beast opened its mouth letting out another screech before launching forward in another attack: all flying talons and ripping teeth.

Lotor evaded the creature, daring to reach into the fray of the animal. His strong grip caught the creatures tail, and he swung his shoulder hard, whipping back and throwing the animal like a sack into the solid ground. Allura screamed.

The gurgling creature rolled onto its back spitting and convulsing violently. Lotor, his fingers still wrapped tightly around the bushy tail, dragged the creature away from her. His pounding heart thudded in rhythm to the animal’s squeals as he dropped to one knee sinking the blade deep into muscle and through bone. He pulled back, the skin sticking greatly to the thick blade before Lotor plunged the weapon down again and a third time. With its final breath, the creature alligator rolled to swipe his forearm with its claws.

He clenched his jaw, as the talons sunk a few painful centimetres before the creature’s strength died. Blood rolled down his arm. His breathing hitched powerfully. It came in ragged puffs that evaporated in the cold, dry air within seconds. For a moment, his gold eyes could only focus on the entrance of his knife. Crimson invaded his sight. His shoulders shook, and his white knuckles ached with the grip he had on the animal’s tacky pelt. Then he was finally certain the beast was dead. His hands uncurled from hilt and fur.

He rose and took a deep breath, centring himself. Adrenaline reared its familiar feelings. His stoic eyes took on a tinge of regret when he felt Allura’s eyes staring into him and Lotor turned to face the princess.

The entire ordeal had only taken a minute. She stood tense, feeling her heart pounding and the blood rushing through her arms and legs. She felt numb, to be honest. She had no idea what to feel. Seeing the rage and anger, almost feral in its intensity, in his movements invading his eyes and giving him a crazed look almost identical to the creature he had just killed.

Of course, Allura had seen Lotor fight before. Indeed, she had been on the receiving end of his vicious hostility. This time it seemed different, however. Maybe she was merely imagining things, but when he met her eyes and she saw a desperate need in his bright yellow eyes, she was unsure.

Conflicting emotions, completely unaided by the surge of hormones going through her system, roiled within her. It had been an entirely unhappy way to wake up from the night before.

Because she had to say something, and Lotor did not seem capable to submit anything, she admitted, “That was scary.” An attempt at humour to diffuse the situation. She thought of Lance for a moment.

Lotor did not understand the effort. He frowned, and concern etched over his face. Inside, he chided himself for not waking her when he had initially heard the disturbance. Stupid. “I should have—”

She cut him off, seeing the obvious confusion in his eyes. There was something else she could not place in his countenance. “It’s okay. I was just surprised.” She gave him a smile, warming up and feeling somewhat better to be getting her mind off the actual attack. “You didn’t ask to be attacked.” She paused, thinking on the merit of her next words. Deciding they may reassure him, she said, “Thank you.”

Lotor’s eyebrows rose slightly. He found his voice,” Of course.” He lowered his eyes and the dark blood ebbing down his purple forearm caught his eye. He frowned.

Allura also noticed and brought a hand to her mouth. She quickly turned around to rummage in her pack. “Here,” she called back. Having a mission cleansed the last of the adrenaline from her mind. She turned around with a wrap and first aid kit in her hands.

He warily walked over and sat down. He attempted to take the supplies.

She pulled them away quickly, and surprise flashed across his face. “No, I will attend to your wound. Sit,” she ordered.

There was no room for argument in her tone and Lotor found himself settling onto the ground as she carefully took his arm, rolling up his sleeve. He resisted the urge to flinch as her light touch sent electricity not entirely caused by pain shooting down his spine. As she carefully cleaned the deep puncture wounds with a foaming agent, he focused on keeping his meandering gaze anywhere but her.

His mind buzzed with the feelings conjured by the prior altercation. He wondered to himself why he hadn’t woken her. That was eating at him. He really should have woken her instead of letting her wake up like that. You did what you did, he thought to himself morosely. In all truth, he had not expected a raging beast to ambush him. So far, they had not seen any evidence of any predators in the forest but there was bountiful prey; he and the princess were simply on the ‘must-try’ list this morning.

His thoughts strayed to the battle like they often did after he had won a fight, going over the details and how he had taken down his opponent. It had been a fairly neat kill, as neat as those battles could be. Such crude beasts rarely were elegant in their kills. He glanced across the way at the bundle of fur on the ground. Dark, oozing blood spilled to soak the soil. It stank.

He smirked at the thought of keeping the carcass. He doubted Allura would want the creature in her Lion “Blue”. A painful sting made him wince and he looked down at his arm.

Allura was brushing a pad of gauze over the wound in a final wipe. She gave him that knowing look. The one, he decided, that he liked. “You are not keeping it if it’s going to stink like that,” she said wrinkling her nose.

A rare, genuine, smile poked at the corners of his mouth and added a twinkle to his eye. “How did you know?” He asked idiotically.

She mirrored his smile but turned her eyes back to his wound. Inside, her soul was glowing at seeing his response. She carefully put a white pad over the injury and began to wrap some brown fabric around his thick forearm. The princess said coyly, “I don’t know.”

Lotor felt a blossom flower in his chest at the tone in her voice, but he didn’t say anymore. He indulged himself a little by focusing on the way her skilled fingers moved over his muscular arm. Finally, and too soon, she finished. Damn.

“There. That should be good for a while,” she said, packing her things back into her bag. Her sapphire eyes flicked up at the sky and her expression grew more serious. “We should get moving. Dawn won’t be long.”

Lotor nodded, examining his arm one last time. “The entrance shouldn’t be far. We are heading west now?”  He met her eyes as she recounted the poem to herself.

She gave a resolute nod. “Yes.” The princess took up her pack and stood. She gave the animal one last look. “Are you going to take it?” She asked. Joking aside, it would be an interesting specimen and she loathed wasting the poor creature’s life.

“It may prove interesting,” he hedged. Lotor could think of a couple things he could do with the pelt. He rarely kept things for such trivial reasons, but it was an intriguing creature.

Luckily, the princess did not seem to mind fostering his curious spirit. “Take it,” she finally said. Watching him so lively and excited about something so small lit a warmth in her chest. She hated that it had to die, and it may at least have a legacy. “Just do what you need to do with it after dawn,” she said uncertainly.

He nodded, carefully, gently, taking the animal. He wrapped it in his survival blanket aware of Allura watching him. He suspected that if he treated it like the lifeless pelt it was, she would not be impressed. Why do you care if she is impressed? What happened last time you did that? He ignored the prodding voice, feeling weightless. When he finished, slinging the package onto his back, Lotor stood. “Ready?”

Chapter Text

Prince and princess walked directly westwards. Their feet moved with graceful speed over the rough terrain. Allura had more stamina than Lotor had expected. Yesterday, she had easily tired but today it seemed like a fire burned within her spirit.

A passion of his own was still raging inside of him. Lotor sensed a closeness steadily growing in the air the closer dawn approached and the further they trekked. A rushing sound like wind was emanating in the distance. He suspected they were nearing a valley or cliff of sorts. The foliage morphed from tall, dry conifers to thick, bushy shrubs and gallant oaks. The air was warming as the sun rode, idling slowly to the tops of the mountains.

As he ducked under a low hanging branch, Lotor noticed a large chunk of the mountain projecting into the forest. It stretched further westwards, sloping gradually down into a dense valley; just as Lotor had suspected. The dark grey stone sat silent and cold, moss and dark green vines dressed the formation. It looked altogether unremarkable, a mere section of the mountain’s craggy face.

Allura let out a breath. “I think this is it,” she said, closing her eyes. “I feel it.”

Lotor’s gaze flipped from the princess and back to the rock. He attempted to focus his own spirit on what Allura was obviously tapping into. This time, he felt not even a faint stirring. A scowl crossed his face, but he quickly dowsed the emotion.

A glaring flicker peeked through the vibrant trees. Lotor looked up to see the sun finally mounting over the peaks. “Dawn,” he said simply.

Allura’s lids fluttered open and she pointed her eyes to the face of rock. Lotor followed her gaze, studying the stone and waiting for any sign of Altean magic.

A flitting wave of stark rays moved over the rough stone. It reminded him of searching hands as it moved over the expanse of wall. The oak’s leaves shivered as a breeze leapt from the valley, shaking the light show over the rocks in a dazzling display.

The princess gasped when she caught something he did not. “There.” She stepped over a low bush and fought her way through the foliage to the wall.

Lotor watched her intensely as her hands moved with the sunlight over the grey stone.  He still couldn’t see anything – A glint of silver shimmered to life. His brows rose as the glimmer changed to a line and then an outline of a large entrance. His breath caught as a set of gold runes also came to life in an arch over the way. He carefully moved to Allura’s side, mindful of where he stepped

His amber gaze slid over to the princess. She was closing her eyes again with her palms resting flat against the doorway’s outline. A frown stretched over her face and her brow creased with concentration. He watched her and the door for several long seconds before she finally pulled away and lowered her head. Fatigue was evident in her eyes, but it was faint.

“The door requires a password,” she finally said sounding almost guilty.

Lotor took in the outline once again. His brow knit in frustration while his mind recalled the verse that had led them here. “It must be on the box,” he reasoned.

Allura nodded, gaining her confidence back. “But what have we not used already... frost?” She offered after a moment of deliberating. Deciding to give it a shot, she turned to the door and spoke in a commanding tone, “Frost.”

Nothing happened.

She hadn’t expected anything to happen. After all, she had just spoken a random word. Why would any Altean choose such a modest, bizarre password? Her shoulders dropped, and her tone took on a pleading note. “Cold?” Nothing. A flash of irritation bolted through the princess.

“Ice? Chill? Winter?” She crossed her arms. All of this trek and the password could be anything. More than a little exasperation and disappointment filled her tired mind.

Lotor placed a hand on his chin. “Snow.”

A click sounded from the door. Lotor flashed a brilliant smirk. A low rumbling issued forth and the stone began to inch open. Judging by the plume of dust that billowed outward, the door had not been used for years. A deep, mouldy scent emanated from the mossy weeds that snapped when the solid entrance swung outwards.

“Yes!” Allura could have hugged him. Actually, that didn’t sound too bad. She restrained herself, however. Instead, she let her shoulders relax and couldn’t help but grin.

He flourished for her to take the first steps into the cavern. She quickly pulled off her pack and retrieved a light-stick. The light revealed a large tunnel where two could walk abreast easily. It didn’t seem to have any immediate bend. As Lotor moved into the space beside the princess, he noted that there was a decent angle to the floor, as if the tunnel led deep downwards. He shared a glance with Allura before turning his attention to the walls.

Her light-stick gave more than enough light for him to notice that the stone was bare, dark and rough. The terrain was uneven and uncared for, dusty. Their boots crunched loudly on the floor, making Lotor want to cringe for the impairment to all attempts at stealth. While Lotor was far from a professional spelunker, to his untrained eye, the passageway appeared completely natural.

Even Allura noticed, as she commented after a handful of minutes, “This place is strange. It doesn’t look like anyone used it.”

Lotor nodded before realising she couldn’t see the movement. “I agree. It is old and appears unaltered. It is almost raw in its nature. Whoever used it, did not take any liberties in making it more useable.”

“I can’t imagine Altean’s living here,” she said. Uncertainty tainted her dubious whisper.

“It felt right,” he said. It was not a question. He let his faith in this manifest itself in his voice. He believed her. It was a rare thing for him to put his trust in another so completely, even about such trivial things like this mission, but over the course of their time here, he believed her. And he let her see it. Because if she didn’t see that, she would lose hope.

The foreign notion was slippery, and he fought to keep a grip on the trust when she locked gazes with him across the meagre green light of the torch. Years of training, backstabbing, betrayal, and pain screamed at him, urging him, pleading him to turn back. She must have noticed the flicker of confliction in his eyes because her eyes softened. His spirit plunged into instinctive defence. No, not this again. His heart picked up pace. A tidal wave of anxiety poured into him, filling his chest. A million voices invaded his senses as he wrested for freedom. A thousand memories faded in and out. Something fearful shadowed those perfect sapphire irises he was drowning in.

Don’t give in –

Stop! His internal defence overrode everything, slamming down and swathing him in ice, protecting him, isolating him. Failure. He immediately felt the regret stab daggers through his heart.

Allura, noticing the sudden disconnection, frowned. Concern passed across her gentle features. When his impassive voice repeated what he had said earlier, she knew he had lost whatever battle had been roaring within him.

 

Chapter Text

Allura’s face fell when Lotor repeated, “It felt right.” He blinked, meeting her eyes. His deep irises held a clouded glimpse of some fear. Or maybe it was shame? She could not tell but watching him contend with himself was tearing her up inside.

She regarded him softly and replied, “It did.” She decided to change the subject sensing the air between quickly turning uncomfortable. The princess turned her head to face the way they were heading. She couldn’t look at him now. They would just have to continue forward. The tunnels may appear plain, but secrets could lie further, she reminded herself. She had to stay focused even if Lotor was making that unimaginably difficult… She shook her head and started down the dark tunnel again. She said, “If this is the place which I was shown, it certainly hasn’t been used in a long time,” she mused.

“It has to be. The verse led us here,” Lotor reasoned, following behind.

Allura felt a small smile tug at the corner of her mouth. He sounded so certain. His attempts at comforting her genuinely touched her heart. Of course, this was the place. It may not be like anything she had expected, but it was the place.

A brief thought flashed through her mind. What had she expected to find in this cavern anyway? Was it some ancient knowledge she craved? Or was it merely the haunting desire of her people that was driving her? Whatever appetite pushed her forward, this cave was appearing to be nothing spectacular.

As they walked, and the minutes dragged by, her previous feelings of doubt reared forward once again. Allura quickly quelled the uprising, but the disheartening feeling remained in the pit of her stomach. If her people had dwelt here, they had long since left, seemingly taking everything with them. Perhaps that wasn’t the reason why her stomach was twisting itself into a knot?

“The door was obviously of Altean make,” Lotor blurted after a very long silence. He seemed distracted somehow, not sounding like his normal, suave self.

“I know.” she said simply. The princess resisted the urge to worry about him. The white-haired prince was fidgeting as well. Her brow creased slightly at the conundrum. Infuriatingly, he kept whatever was upsetting him to himself, as usual. Why?! I want you to tell me what is wrong!

No, she could not say that. He wouldn’t answer her. A tongue of anger ignited inside her mind. It only burned for a moment before she caught herself. Lotor was not at all what he seemed. There were some monstrous traumas buried deep within the man. She had no idea what they were but the more time she spent with him as a person, as a friend, she was catching glimpses. Wait, a friend? Perhaps that wasn’t the best description.

She checked back into the conversation as Lotor was saying, “There may even be secret tunnels or entrances from within here.” He blew out a breath. “It could take more quintants than we have to spare.”

Allura nodded in acknowledgement but came to a slow halt as she turned cautiously into a small cavern. She raised her torch to fill the space before her. Her sapphire eyes widened and she gasped.


Lotor’s mouth fell open when the princess lit the small space with her torch. Trailing gold lines traversed the floor, walls, and ceiling. They sparkled like veins of living gold. The shimmering courses reflected the dull yellow light from their torch, lighting the cavern with a soft, easy glow. The greyish stone was now streaked with thick veins of a glossy black material, reminding Lotor of some of the rock formations he had noticed while they had made their approach from the atmosphere. The final thing Lotor’s eyes rested upon, was the ancient pedestal sitting in the middle of the room. It was tall and slim, standing like the trunk of a young tree cur down in its prime.

He was the first one to break the silence that Allura was still profoundly under. “We need to find the key,” he said matter-of-factly.

The princess snapped out of her awe inspired stare. “Yes.” She looked around before taking a couple timid steps onto the floor. The outlines immediately recognised her presence, glowing more strongly and thrumming. Knowing what to do now, She deactivated her torch, letting the device slip to the ground. 

Lotor stayed back watching with the stare of a predator. He did not dare step into the room lest he disrupt the magic. His eyes tracked the princess as she moved.

Allura reached her hand out when she neared the pedestal. Her heart thudded in her chest. A wave of quintessence was welling within her. She could feel the soul of the planet through this gateway. It made her nerves tingle on the edge of firing. It felt so right. Her memory flicked to the Lions and their indubitable spirits. This was the same; the planet, the stone, the mineral glowing under her feet, they were all alive with energy: quintessence.

She closed her eyes as he palms rested on the cold, flat surface of the stone projection. Please, show me the reason I am here in this place.

A gentle surge of energy welled inside of her. Her lashes fluttered open. The cavern was bright now, as if the ceiling were removed and the fervent morning sun shone unhindered within the small space. Pinpoints of blue light mingled now among the golden hue. Her eyes perceived a map.

Star routes weaved with the permanent outlines gracing the cave. Glittering blue sparkles signified star systems. Green flecks represented objects which Allura could not decipher. She glanced behind her, where she could sense Lotor. His face, gloriously shadowed with the myriad lights, was one of wonder.

He noticed her watching him. There was an indescribable serenity in her eyes. Excitement also shined in the azure globes. Lotor felt his breath catch and a fluttering sensation flowered deep in his stomach. Her svelte silhouette standing in front of the slowly careening map behind her – It stalled time. For one long second, he could not break the contact and what she had breathed back into centuries-old life. Accomplishment flooded his mind. A tight smile crossed his face. “This is it,” he said inspired. He lifted his head and took a small step into the room.

Allura grinned as well. She took in the map as Lotor came to her side. The buzzing energy inside her was steadily growing. But one thing still nagged at the back of her mind. She scanned the floor and walls for anything. “Where is the key though?”

Lotor’s brow knit together. “What?” Genuine obliviousness was evident on his face.

“The key, to the box,” she gestured to the silver package Lotor still held in his arms.

The half-galran’s eyes snapped down to the object. His brows leapt to the ceiling. “Of course,” he looked around. “We shall find it,” he stated before bringing his attention back to the holo-map.

Allura twisted her mouth and gripped the pedestal once again, searching for an opening. “That is the reason we came here,” she muttered to herself.

Lotor finally tore his gaze from the universe spread out before him. “Perhaps the map will tell us?” He offered.

Allura raised her eyes to the stars in response to his suggestion. She certainly hoped not. If that were the case, she would take it back to the castle and hack it open. However, as she scrutinised the star routes, something did call out to her. “Wait,” She focused on a section moving above Lotor’s head. “That is the missing piece!”

Lotor followed her finger to the cluster of stars and winding star routes. “It must be,” he breathed. The section did look familiar, but he marvelled how Allura could be certain. The woman was beyond amazing sometimes. He could not deny her or show reservation. Why not? I have no idea… Because she is right. How do you know? Shut up.

She scanned the room. “How can we record this?”

Lotor raised an eyebrow. “I am sure you brought some sort of documenting device?” He prodded. He possessed nothing of the sort. When the Paladins had taken him captive they had taken such things away from him and Lotor had never been given the chance to retrieve his personal effects once their agreement was settled. He cursed their paranoia for a moment.

Allura rummaged in her pack, finding a recording device. She quickly flipped the machine on and began to document the map wheeling above their heads.

Lotor politely stepped out of the way. He turned his attention to the worlds floating through the cavern. He admitted, he hadn’t expected such a treasure tucked into this mountain. The weight in his arms stole his attention once again. He was still holding the silver box. His brow furrowed. Was there even a key? Maybe not. Maybe it didn’t even matter. He possessed a detailed, ancient, map of an entire sector of the galaxy. Most of it appeared completely new-fangled. The concept made his mind thrum with excitement. So many worlds untouched by known civilisation was a tempting notion.

Movement from Allura caught his eye. The princess was tucking her recording device back into her pack. She cast one more glance at the mesmerising sight she had awakened. Finally, she turned her head. “Let’s go,” she said.

Lotor gave a reluctant nod as he regarded her. His focus was being pulled in by her radiance once again, but he fought the feeling off momentarily. “What about the box.” He lifted the aforementioned item.

Surprise crossed her face as she was reminded. “I don’t see anything where a key could be hidden in here. We may have to force it open,” she confessed almost nervously. Her next words were more certain, however. “I think this is the reason I was led here by it.”

Lotor glanced over the room once again and nodded. His brow furrowed as another thought came to him. “How do you deactivate the map?”

Allura smiled. “I have a feeling once I leave the vicinity it should deactivate.” She retrieved the fallen torch. “I can feel its energy. As if I am a conductor,” she reasoned.

The illustration made sense to him. He quashed a splash of jealously. “Very well then. Let us head back to the lion.”

Lotor turned to lead the way through the tunnels. He was acutely aware of Allura following behind him.

It was her body that smashed into his when an explosion shook his entire world, sending both into utter darkness.

Chapter Text

Shiro stood on the bridge of the Castle. His dark, steel gaze did not stray from the snow-tipped peaks on the planet below. “Coran, scan again. There is a stack of smoke rising from the south-eastern range.” His voice was ice that cut through the anxiety permeating the bridge.

The Paladins of Voltron had been orbiting the planet since Allura and Prince Lotor had taken Blue down to the surface. Last night, they had received a short, pre-recorded note from the Princess that all was well and that only one more rotation should be sufficient to gain enough intel to merit leaving. Morning had long sprung and the planet was nearing its noontide: still no word from Allura.

He narrowed his eyes as Coran replied tersely, “There is a large mass moving with the smoke. It is reading just south of the plume.” The seasoned warrior’s voice was thick with apprehension. Not being able to contact the princess was putting him though more unease.

“What is it?” Lance asked, his voice going up an octave. Shiro could practically see the sweat beading up on the young man’s forehead.

“I don’t know yet,” Pidge replied, not looking up from her screen. “It is massive, moving slowly. I think…” She trailed off before picking back up. “It’s a living creature!”

Shiro half turned to meet the young woman. Certainty shone in her jade eyes. It was all the affirmation he needed. “In that case, get to your lions,” he ordered.

Lance was immediately up. Pidge and Hunk wavered for only a moment before darting off the bridge. As the three left, Coran shared a glance with the human man. “What are you planning?” He asked raising an eyebrow.

Shiro looked down at the planet’s surface once more. “If Pidge’s theory is correct, we should be able to distract it or kill it. Keep attempting to gain Allura’s location,” he ordered. “That monster is heading straight towards her and takes priority. If all else fails, one of us will go to her Lion and find her manually.”  

Coran nodded. “Aye, I understand. I’ll keep you updated.”

Shiro tightened his jaw, giving a curt nod of his own before turning on his heel to ready his lion.

***

The breath was knocked from his lungs as Allura’s small, but heavy form knocked him face forward. Lotor instinctively through his arms up to protect his head. There was no heat like he expected from an explosion. A loud crushing sound shook and disoriented his senses. Gravel and dust invaded his nostrils, making it more difficult to suck in a breath. His cheek smashed painfully into the hard ground. He half twisted feeling Allura’s form colliding limply with his back. His arm was able to hook hers keeping her semi-stable as the two of them began a hard tumble down the steeply angled tunnel. He came to a crushing halt when his back slammed into a wall of fallen rock. They had not rolled all the way back down to the cavern, but it had been a lengthy trip.

As the rumbling began to subside and Lotor was able to start catching his breath, two thoughts burst through his racing mind. The first one surprised him. Is she okay?! What happened?

He hastily pulled his other arm out from under him. A deep pain ran through the limb, but nothing felt broken. Still clutching her to his body, he used the other to feel for her neck. A sickening feeling was coursing through him. He frantically found her pulse and let out a quiet breath. It was fast, but strong. His broad shoulders slumped, and his racing mind was able to slow down somewhat. His calculating mind immediately went into a practiced mode of taking stock of the situation.

Allura was unconscious, hopefully soon to awaken. A throbbing pain was working its way up his right leg, breathing was laborious, and his body tremored. The tunnel was collapsed. There was no going back the way they came and possibly no way of moving forward. Something had caused the cave-in, but it had certainly not been an explosion. He felt nor smelled no sign of any explosives. Lotor was now positioned laying half on his side, leaning sorely against jagged rock. The steep angle of the floor did much to keep Allura’s bodyweight pressed against the half-galran prince.

Lotor cautiously attempted to sit up. A sharp pain manifested in his right leg, as he attempted to push his legs under him. Finally, he was sitting with the princess propped against his shoulder. For a second, he relaxed. However, breathing became more difficult when a hacking cough racked his body.

The noise and movement must have woken Allura from her slumber. Lotor was still trying to clear his throat from the blanket of dust, when she whimpered and sat up, rubbing her temple with her hand.

“Lotor?” She shook her head from side to side. In the utter blackness he could only sense the movement.

He felt her body tense and forced his cough down. “Here,” he choked out.

“What happened?” She asked, pain was in her voice now, but the princess still attempted to shift her weight.

He hissed when her hand gipped his thigh in the darkness. “I don’t know,” Lotor groaned before finding his voice again. “The cave collapsed,” he stated. Lotor was now fairly sure his leg was wounded somehow as her touch felt like burning ice. His lungs still ached for oxygen. “Are you alright?”

Allura shifted once again, throwing Lotor through agony. She was sitting beside him now, her legs no longer tangled with his own. He drove the thoughts of the previous intimacy away from his mind.

“I think I am fine,” she said a bit too calmly. “My head is pounding, and my arm feels like it was twisted.” He could feel her stretching slowly.

Lotor bit his lip. That is your fault. The self-accusation was a flagrant stab at his own feelings, but he pushed the distraction away. “Good,” was the only reply he was able to conjure. 

“How are you?” Allura asked. A shiver of anxiety marred her voice.

He quickly gave her reassurance. “A little battered but I will live.” It was a lie. His breath was coming so painfully. It threatened to thrust him into unconsciousness.

There was a small silence before Allura spoke up again, command laced her words now acutely at odds with her weak voice. “We must attempt to contact the Paladins. Where is my pack?”

Lotor nodded despite the situation. He mentally prepared himself to stand. “It may have come off on our descent,” Lotor muttered. Before he was able to shift himself into a position that would not put all of his weight on a searing leg, Allura pushed herself to her own feet. “What are you doing?” He asked flatly.  

“I am going to find my pack,” she said, as she slowly made her way forward a few steps.

Lotor’s nose scrunched. He could almost imagine the defiance in her face. Unconsciously, he reached out to catch her. “I was” –

He was cut off by a tremor rolling through the stone. Several small rocks fell from the ceiling before the sensation passed.

She continued where he left off, unknowing of his outstretched hand. Her tone was sharp but there was something more than rebellion in her tone. It made his heart yearn when she said his name that way. “Lotor, you are hurt. I felt you tense when I touched you. You’re in pain.”

His jaw dropped, and his palm fell similarly. It wasn’t only pain. He was suddenly glad she couldn’t see his face. A tidal wave of something deeply set, shameful, and painful was flooding him. It was met with fiery defences. “I am fine,” he reiterated firmly. The half-breed attempted to push himself up, grimacing over the throbbing heat shooting up his left leg.

Allura was brave enough to grip his shoulders. She pushed him down with a force Lotor marvelled at. “No. Stay. I doubt I will be far. I can also see if the tunnel is completely collapsed or only partially collapsed.”

A frantic buzz was beginning to hover just on the edge of Lotor’s conscious decision. He masked it well behind a begrudging tone. “Fine.”

The princess lifted her hands. “Please, don’t hurt yourself further,” she pleaded lastly before attempting to lighten the mood. “I won’t try to carry you, if you do.”

Lotor leant his head back instead of replying. He reminded himself she would not be far. Indeed, he would marvel if the section they were trapped under was more than a few meters. Waiting was not what he was designed to do. A memory stirred violently within him as she turned her back.


 

Another searing whip lash bruised Lotor’s skin. He winced, trying so desperately not to make a sound.

“You are weak, filthy worm!”

Lotor muttered a vow to himself as another wave of leather assaulted his skin. He pulled against the cords trussing his hands to the metal base in the floor. His white fangs glistened in a pained snarl. His strength was still budding and did nothing to budge the heavy metal nor twist the thick cord.

Beside him, a galran adolescent nearly Lotor’s age roared in laughter. “That half breed will never be strong enough.”

The half blood prince scowled and propped his injured arm against his heaving chest. He could hear Allura only a few steps away from him. She was cautiously moving forward through the pitch-black tunnel, feeling her way forward and searching for her pack. He would not allow the unpleasant memories to cloud his choices. No, he was going to trust her. So far, it had been profitable.

Chapter Text

Shiro closed his eyes as a pulse of energy shivered through his lion. He grit his teeth as the turbulence rocked the cockpit violently. Black maneuvered into a roll and Shiro quickly recovered. As he barked another order, the lion swerved around one of the taller snow-covered peaks. “Do not attempt to fire on the mountains. Something is sending the energy back at us.”

Pidge chimed in. Her light voice held the sharp edge it usually took when she was unravelling a challenge. She said, “The mountains seem to be streaked with a mineral that reflects our energy weapons.”

“How are we going to lure that creature from the mountains?” Lance asked, nervously.

Shiro’s jaw tightened as possibilities ran through his head like numbers. One particular idea seemed to show itself. “How does the creature traverse through the mountain? Smell?” He guessed.

Pidge was silent for a second before replying, “I would assume it navigated via sonic rhythms going through the rock, like a whale in the ocean.”

Shiro gave a tight nod, restraining a curse. Of course, Allura wasn’t here. Blue was the only lion with the ability to fire sonic assaults. He was deep in thought when Hunk interrupted his formulating.

“What if we make our own sonic traces? Since, Allura is not here, we can fire in front of it and herd it elsewhere with the tremors,” Hunk suggested.

“It may work, but we would have to be cautious of destabilising the range,” Pidge warned. She did not sound totally averse to the idea.

“Wait, you mean fire on that mountain even though Allura is still down there?!” Lance’s alarmed voice cut through the comms uneasily. He was not liking the way this day was turning and he certainly felt wary of shooting at the very mountain Allura was reconnoitring.

Making his decision, Shiro finally broke into the conversation, first offering Lance some comfort. The young man had a genuine soft spot for the princess, Shiro had seen it, and Lance would function better with some relief. “If we attack carefully now, we may not have to get any closer to the princess. Lance, this may work.”

His only response was silence. “We have to fire along the trajected pathway,” Pidge said as a blue line popped up on Shiro’s HUD.

“Be careful about the ricochet,” Shiro warned as he moved his lion onto the trajectory Pidge had calculated. The others also guided their lions in a crescent to make a run over the terrain with their lasers. As the pristine peaks came closer and the rising puff of dust slowly chugged in a line across the granite, Shiro took a deep breath. He had never fired a weapon meaning for it to bounce back at the wielder. This would have to be quick.

***

“Why are you taking so long?” Lotor’s brow furrowed. He was going insane being unable to put weight on his blasted leg. He was debating on whether forcing himself to stand would be beneficial, but he waived the notion away. In any case, they would have limited air in this place and having another person moving around would spend their precious oxygen more quickly. Even now, breathing was difficult, and he could not imagine it becoming any more arduous. He scowled, squinting his eyes into the darkness. “Allura?”

“Here I am,” said her small voice. She sounded further than he had expected.

“Did you find your pack yet?” He asked, feigning impatience. A sharp bite of pain shot through his chest, but he ignored the sensation and a flicker of dry wit took its place. “I would have been faster.”

A smile was in her next words. She was glad someone could be taking this entire ordeal somewhat lightly. “The tunnel is long, and I can only move so surely in the dark,” she complained…  “Ouch!”

Lotor felt a spike of alarm shoot through his mind and his stomach twisted. “What happened?” He demanded. At the moment, standing was once more looking to be a better option.

The princess chuckled lightly after a pause. “I think so, I may have scratched my hand a little. Don’t worry,” she attempted assuredly. His concern made her blush slightly and she wasn’t sure if it was the extra carbon dioxide or lack of visual stimulation that made her heart speed up.

The half breed prince let his eyes roll back into his skull. Being unable, helpless, was driving him insane. He shifted his position and immediately regretted the decision. His fangs sank into his tongue as he stifled a hiss. “Be careful,” he found himself saying. Somehow, worrying for her safety was an effective way to keep his mind off his own injuries.

The smile was still in her voice as she replied. “I am being careful,” she said, suddenly and starkly close to him.

He felt her presence sit next to him and subsequently heard her rummaging with fabric. Lotor unconsciously swallowed hard and cursed himself for the thoughts the sounds conjured. Even the smell of her was suddenly and fiercely distracting. He shifted once again and decided to ask what she was doing. “Did you find your pack?” What a stupid question. Of course, she did. What else would she be doing?

“Yes,” she said cheerfully. “It was by the cave in. We have about twenty feet forward before the path is blocked with stones,” she went on.

He could hear her fiddling with something hard and metallic now. “How is the transmitter?” As the words left his mouth, a soft click echoed in the space and a tiny blue light flared to life. It blinked in a slow mesmerising pattern.

“I hope it can penetrate the stone walls,” she said uncertainly. Their plight was dawning on her now. She could do nothing else in this blackness. It was up to the tiny machine sitting in her palm and her friends far above to get them out. Whether that would be in time… She shook the dark thoughts from her mind. She guessed that there was enough oxygen in the space for them to last maybe two days, but she had no idea how to calculate how much co2 the pair would be creating… “I think if we don’t hear a response from the others within a few minutes, we try to get out of here,” she said apprehensively.

 Lotor nodded but a surge of feelings was running through him as he watched her in the extremely dim blue light. He could barely make out her grainy shadow, but the closeness between them was intoxicating. She was concentrating on figuring out something. It was probably their next move to escape this predicament. He chastised himself, knowing he should be concentrating on brainstorming with the princess. It was all a vain attempt. She was horribly distracting right now, and he had no idea why.

The half-blood prince fought the urge to shift positions. He blamed the high concentrations of waste gases and his poor breathing on the light-headedness he was feeling. Indeed, his breath came with more difficulty when she turned towards him.

She sounded so uncertain with her next words. “Do you think it will get through? Maybe we should just try to clear a path now.”

He bit his lip, so grateful for the darkness. Just the thought of standing was enough to make him wince, he could not imagine clearing a path. He lied, “We can try that.”

Allura leaned her head back against the wall as if a thought occurred to her. “But you cannot,” she stated.

Lotor pursed his lips suddenly feeling ashamed and angry all at once. He squashed the emotions with sheer determination. “I may be able to do some work,” he insisted. Lotor hesitated before continuing. “I may require assistance making it there, however. I have not attempted standing.”

The princess thought about the proposition for a moment before nodding. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” she reiterated.

He stared at where he guessed her eyes were. “If I cannot make it, I will speak up,” Lotor reassured. He wasn’t sure if he himself even believed the hollow words.

However, his internal debate was thrown to the wind when her small hand snaked around his forearm. “Alright,” she said dubiously.

Lotor barely heard the syllables over the thudding in his chest and a trail of bumps passed over his lavender skin. He hoped she didn’t notice them. She did, judging by the sudden change in her tone.

“Are you alright?” She asked carefully. Butterflies fluttered deep in her belly. She could feel the heat spreading across her face and perspiration made her palms tacky.

He wanted to answer but his tongue sat heavily in his mouth. He had no idea what was happening, but an overcoming sensation was dragging him along like a bobbing float lost in a raging river. A panicked whisper still echoed deep in the recesses of his mind, but for once something strong kept it at bay. It was relieving and entirely terrifying at the same time. Her touch seemed to ignite the strength within him or was it something else? Somehow, some way, she silenced that accursed voice in his head. Did it matter how? He cast the thought away, relishing the second of peace.

He felt instinct and the power of the moment pull him forward. Nervousness rose like a wave, but he couldn’t help himself as his face inched forward. Her scent drove his senses into a frenzy. Lotor could feel her breath. It made him heady. He was unaware of his talons unsheathing as his hand tentatively caressed her bicep, sharp claws ghosting over her smooth flesh. She was so close. His heart was thudding.

Allura’s grip tightened on his thigh as his hot breath assaulted her. The contact gave him an exhilarating rush, finally pushing him to give in. He was easy, timid, as he parted his mouth and brushed his lips against hers. The novel sensation of her heat and texture took a moment to settle in before his advances became more thorough and he kissed her properly.

He could sense her aching through the contact. She yearned but held back, as if a long-buried need was being slowly uncovered. She let him take the lead.

And as Lotor became bolder, he was content to take it. For a long moment, he kissed her, and the flame of pleasure overwhelmed him. They hovered in that flash of bliss together for several long seconds even as Lotor gently broke the kiss.

His breath was coming ragged and pressure was pooling below his trousers’ waistband, but he pushed the calling anxieties away from him. He wanted to keep the moment and lock the feeling deep within him forever. He relished the feel of her. It was so damn calming. For once, he was—

A powerful tremor shattered the instant. All the old memories flooded back, and the voice berated him for taking advantage of the beautiful princess sitting next to him. He coughed, meaning to apologise but a sharp pain from his chest made him grunt out the words.

She giggled, a noise that he had not expected, and gently patted his hand. “It’s okay... we should get to work.”

As she stood and carefully helped him to his aching feet, he tried to sort through a million feelings, thoughts, and speculations.

 

Chapter Text

“I think it’s working!” Hunk piped through Shiro’s headset. The Black Paladin shoved the distraction from his racing mind as he pulled his lion into a wild roll to evade a stream of reflected energy from his last barrage on the mountain range. A piercing migraine was edging towards the front of his consciousness. Spinning was not helping.

Shiro’s lion came out of the maneuver smoothly only to be nearly peppered by another wave of energy from someone else’s attack. He pulled his lion upwards to earn a respite from the wild flying. “How much more of this?” He asked, turning his beast back around to make another run. His scanning gaze noticed the smoke plume from before, travelling slowly through the scorched forests. The paladin felt a vague pang of regret at the sight of the flames. It surfaced a deep conviction he never knew. His brow furrowed, and the image was seared into his thoughts.

 “Call off the attack.” He decided even before Pidge was able to finish speaking her projected course.  “We will watch,” he clarified whilst pulling his lion onto an idle pace.

There was a long silence as the world reverted back to its lonely self. Without the constant pounding of their guns, the region was quaint and serene. Yet, while the other paladins waited anxiously. Shiro kept his eyes fixed on the crawling flames that ate away at the mountains face. For reasons he could not place, they nagged at his subconsciousness, like a faraway memory he could no longer fathom; he could only feel its stirring…

“Hey! Its turning around!” Lance’s words were ecstatic.

Hunk let out a loud whoop.

Shiro snapped from his reverie. His focus shifted gears like a lock sliding firmly into place. A smirk played across his face as the familiar feeling of accomplishment washed over him, taking with it his previous anxieties. “Good job, team,” he said through a smile. “Let’s head to the surface and find the Princess.”

***

Lotor squeezed his eyes shut through another wave of pain that was becoming the norm along with his labouring breath.

Allura was already infuriatingly attuned to his changes. “Are you still alright? She asked. Concern laced her voice, and though the sound chipped at the ice attempting to glaze over his bounding heart, he was growing steadily irritated at the constant questions.

“Yes,” he ground out. She doesn’t mean to make it worse, he told himself. Be patient… Listen to yourself. One kiss and you are weakening yourself. The final words came harshly and powerfully, in the baritone of his father. He violently pushed the memories behind him, distracting himself by gripping a stone and rolling it to the floor. His anger fuelled his strength. His will would overcome the physical self. She would not make him weak. She could be the very key to the apogee of his power. The half-galran smirked. He wondered if this selfish thing could be what they called love.

Stop.

This blasted darkness coupled with the agony wracking his body was driving him down a darker path. He didn’t wish to be this way. He hated these feelings. Why was he like this. Why are you like this? His talons unsheathed and dug into his own arm. He bit his tongue to halt the hiss of pain. The passing sensation was enough to help centre himself, but the form of meditation was thrown off track by her burning touch igniting his broad shoulders. She was growing bolder.

“Lotor, time for a rest,” she spoke firmly.

After a moment, Lotor numbly lowered himself to the floor. She was right, of course. He was running out of energy. If he recuperated while she worked, they may be able to take shifts… That was a plan, anyways. He took a breath at the false hope such an outlandish notion gave.

At least rest was blanketing a quietness over him. It soothed his racing mind even as shame filled the space that rage had just occupied, seconds ago... He attempted optimism because it had worked so well last time. “You have a strong spirit, princess,” he said, trying desperately to sound like himself, not the burned-out shell he was presently.

Allura sat down beside him, pressing against his side in the cramped space. “Thank you,” she said sweetly. There was an awkward silence before she spoke up again, “I am glad I brought you here with me.”

Lotor swallowed hard, that fluttering was starting again in his stomach. An instinct told him to say something nice, but his tongue was having difficulty moving in accordance with the jumbled words rushing through his head. Finally, he replied, “Me too.”

Earlier’s fire was returning to him and making take two on their prior kiss was a real temptation. Instead, he took a chance and found her hand, giving it a squeeze. His head reeled at the foreign sensations. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. A feverish smile cracked his face and he wondered if the pain was really causing this mania. It didn’t matter. He felt like a young boy, doing something wrong and knowing he wouldn’t be caught. He didn’t have to explain. He didn’t have to fear being ridiculed. He just was.

In this black cave, bleeding out next to a princess, he felt safe for the first time in his life. His grip strengthened around her small hand and he didn’t want to let go. No, never.

 

Chapter Text

8 days later…


 

A hot kiss brushed over his dry lips and Lotor gasped…

The expected wave of agony didn’t overwhelm like it did last time. No, it was a recollection. Flashes of memory and bits of conversation flooded his consciousness. His mouth screwed into a grimace as he struggled to open his eyes. Even the dim blue light was piercing to his recovering vison. A spike of alarm peaked as he gave up the struggle and focused on listening.

He lay in a soft bed with light sheets. His right leg was cold and numb. The tips of his fingers where frozen as well, moving them was painfully difficult. He groaned wincing at the phantom rush of discomfort that should have come.

His slow mind groggily moved through his mental checklist. He must be in the castle… The aseptic smell of the room reminded him of a medical bay. Yes, that had to be where he was. Lotor pulled up a fuzzy recollection of falling asleep next to Allura… Strong hands had gripped his shoulders sometime afterwards. Next, light had poured through the ceiling. The powerful smell of smoke assaulted his senses before he had passed out again.

Lotor’s eyes moved under the lids as he attempted to piece together the strands of what had happened. The paladins of Voltron must have found them. Now, he was in the Castle of Lions.

Warily, he tried to open his eyes again. Once his eyes were acclimated, his amber gaze scanned the empty room for a few long seconds as his mind comprehended the scene. Glowing monitors swung over his prone form, no one else was present. He lifted his head only to let it come crashing back down because of vertigo. He sighed.

Without shifting too much, he reached to the bedside console. His finger found a button and he attempted to press it, hoping it wasn’t the switch to his pain medications. He wanted Allura. Only her. He needed to know what had happened; if she still possessed the map they found. Is that the only reason, fool? Lotor ignored the voice.

Frustration mounted when there was no response to his pressing. His brow furrowed as he jammed the button next to the former. This time, the crackling of an intercom sounded. Lotor licked his parched lips before saying, “Where is the princess?” His question was direct and Lotor himself was surprised at the strength in his own tone.

Silence followed for a few seconds before Shiro’s monotone sarcasm replied. “Glad to hear you are awake.”

Lotor did not waste his breath but brought his hand back to his side. Moving was becoming easier and his hands were warming up. He concentrated on stretching his muscles for several minutes before the door whooshed open and Allura appeared in the doorway.

An unexpected, relieved, smile crossed his face and despite himself, he pushed up onto his elbows. He levelled his voice before greeting her. “Allura.”

Allura ignored the blush creeping up her cheeks at Lotor’s soft smile. It was so good to see him looking like one of the living again. Within the last week, the half-Galra had her and the other paladin’s severely worried. He had lost a remarkable amount of blood from deep lacerations and shrapnel wounds, yet here he was. And she couldn’t put into words how grateful she felt watching him right now. “You look so much better,” she quipped with a sweet grin.

Lotor reflected her cheerfulness in spite of dizziness making his head spin. A weightless feeling was rising in his chest. It was that emotion specific to her presence. That one he relished. A rose tint he could not hide dusted his cheeks as the princess came forward and sat on the chair beside his bed. Damn, you need to get a grip. As if to respond to his internal reprimand, a splash of reality hit him when he shifted and felt stiff in his legs. “What happened?”

Allura folded her hands delicately into her lap. Her sapphire eyes became distant as she recounted the details. “You passed out shortly after we stopped for rest.” She paused thinking back to how tightly he had held to her hand. It had broken her heart to feel his strong form slouched against her. She briefly wondered if he had ever been held that way. Probably not... She continued, “I attempted to dig through the cave in, alone, after that. It felt like an hour when the tremors finally stopped and shortly after that I received a message from the Paladins. They got through the cave within minutes with Hunk’s bayard…”

The princess’ eyes wandered to the floor as she recalled the feeling of fresh air hitting her face. She shivered at the thought. Tunnels were now definitely on the bottom of her favourite natural-locations list. “Shiro pulled you out and we immediately departed to the castle. You have been unconscious for eight days.”

Lotor was too exhausted to hide his expression as the world stopped. Eight days… Wasted time. His lips compressed into a thin line as he thought of what to say in reaction to this.

“Do you still have the map we found?” He asked, deciding to get onto business. There was an inkling of yearning that flickered in the back of his mind, but he ignored it for now. Seeing her and being in her presence was enough to give him consolation; even if the distant memory of their kiss was returning to him… It floated to the present on the smell of her perfume. This is going to be difficult. He reeled in the stray thoughts. “Have we made any progress?”

Allura perked up, noticing him having trouble being stoic. She didn’t blame the half-galra. She was struggling to not bring up their kiss, especially since they enjoyed the luxury of being alone right now. To be honest, she had no clue on how to bring it up. Perhaps she would follow his line of thinking and get on to the easier plots running through her head. She would let it surface in its own time.

At least he seemed to have liked it, she thought, satisfied before replying. “Yes, I have loaded it into the castle’s memory banks. It is incredible. I can show you most of it here” She stood up and started towards a console set in the far-right wall.

Lotor stalled her, snagging her hand. He had no idea why he was doing exactly what he had told himself not to, but it felt… right... Right? As her beautiful gaze flicked down to meet his golden irises, he was more uncertain. An abrupt flutter intensified in his stomach and suddenly Lotor was painfully aware that they were not in a dark cave, hours from death. This was real. It wasn’t some impulse drunk on pain. A warning bell rang at the back of his mind, but he moved his dry tongue to blurt, “I am glad to see you.”

The words sounded so hollow and fake to his jaded ears. He quickly amended, “You did well. I am glad you were not hurt.” The slew of words was coming even more jumbled. His grip loosened on her hand. He blamed his state of health, though the accusation was a blatant lie…

She squeezed his hand gently, catching his lowering eyes. “Thank you,” she gave him a warm smile that lit his heart. “I am just happy you are awake now. I was quite worried about you,” she said genuinely. The words melted his composition. It made him happy. They took him higher.  

He blushed. Damn, Lotor blushed. She turned the conversation to give his pride some room. Watching him open up and accepting her caring was sending her spirit into her own state of bliss. He had to be saveable. Shiro was wrong. Everyone was wrong. She would prove it. “Let me show you the map and what we found,” she said through a grin.  

Chapter Text

Lotor sat rapt as the princess continued her exposition on theories. The content she was speaking of was interesting, no doubt, but the Galran prince’s energy was quickly draining. It was a shame really. The princess was obviously excited over the knowledge. Lotor would have been too if he were not so weary. His heavy lids slowly collapsed, and sleep almost claimed him… It would have. However, one word stuck out in her excited drone: “Terraformed”.

His eyes snapped open and he cleared his throat to get her attention.

She stopped mid-sentence and tilted her head before realising what had gotten his attention. “Oh, yes. There is substantial evidence that this planet and the others in the solar system were terraformed almost entirely,” she said brightly.

Lotor’s eyebrow quirked. “The Alteans did that?” His memory spanned back to his studies and the recollection of the Battle of Naxzela came to mind. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. That was the first time he had ever met the gorgeous woman standing here… Now, he was discovering that he and Allura held a mutual love for discovery, among other things. The thoughts warmed his soul and the memory of their kiss stirred once again. Once again, that crushing feeling was welling deep within him, making him want to grin and laugh deliriously.

Allura’s lilted voice broke into his thoughts. “We believe after further scans of the planet that, yes, Alteans terraformed the system.” Her tone changed to something almost relieved. “It would explain why the other planets in the system are so strangely identical.”

He gave a slight nod as another wave of tiredness blanketed him. This emotion brewing in his heart was lulling him to sedation. His thinking was coming slowly but he pondered absently. “I wonder why Alteans would bother doing so here,” he said blearily. He closed his eyes as she made her way back to the bed. He felt her sit beside him on the plush surface before consciousness slipped away.

XxX

“What did Lotor say?” Shiro’s deep voice spoke from the doorway and Allura looked up from the book she was reading. She was still settled beside the aforementioned prince, who had been dozing for an hour.

She offered the man a smile and set her reading material down. Her excitement was hard to contain. The memory of Lotor’s smile and his sweet words was enough to make her cheeks flush. She wanted to gush out to her friend but doubted Shiro would want to hear it. Indeed, the man had been acting somewhat strange since the cave rescue. Allura had meant to ask Shiro about it earlier. She weighed whether now would be a good time.

Instead, she answered his question, telling most of the truth. Shiro didn’t need to know about their personal ‘accomplishments’. She said, “he was groggy but coherent… and very intrigued with our discovery of a terraforming plant.”

Shiro crossed the room, folding his arms across his chest. He stood beside her to take in the half-breed. Seeing Lotor incapacitated set him on edge for a reason he could not place. “That’s good,” he stated, attempting to sound cheerful for Allura’s sake. To his dismay, the princess was growing increasingly attached to Lotor. He could see it in her eyes. And, though he was not completely certain how, he knew that some recent change had affected the two’s relationship. Part of Shiro told him how much of a danger such a connexion would be. Lotor was a snake and no person could turn from such a path so quickly… or easily.

Allura did not seem to notice Shiro’s darkening thoughts as she interrupted his musing. “How have you been?” She asked carefully.

For a moment, he weighed the merit of telling the princess the truth…

She must have noticed his hesitation for her brow knit together in concern. “What is it?” She asked.

He was trapped now. Even if he lied, Allura would be able to tell. He chastised himself for considering lying in the first place. She deserved the truth. He cared about her enough to tell her his feelings on the matter, especially if it could be a mater of life and death. His steel gaze flicked from Lotor and back to her before he replied. “I have just been… worried lately.”

A trace of exasperation crossed over her face, but her voice remained friendly, if not somewhat troubled. “Why is that?”

If he didn’t know better, he would be sure Allura could read his mind… Shiro pursed his lips debating on telling her… No, she needed to know. It was his duty to protect his team against all threats, that included whispers of deceit from within.  He sighed, “Allura, I don’t trust Lotor. He is up to something.” His gaze slid to the half-breed laying silently. Paranoia egged on, but he continued. “You shouldn’t allow yourself to become close to him,” he warned.

Allura’s eyes flashed with irritation or perhaps it was merely stubbornness. Shiro couldn’t tell. “I think Lotor has done enough for us to be able to treat him like a person,” she retorted.

“I wasn’t saying that we should reject him. I was just reminding you that he is notorious for betraying people he has worked with. Remember what we learned about one of his generals,” Shiro hedged. His eyes softened as looked into her sapphire eyes. “Just be aware of him. I know he has been showing some different colours lately.” He paused before continuing, uncertainly. A knot was twisting in his stomach, but it was not the fluttering feeling he had expected. It was akin to nausea. “I just want you to stay sharp,” he finished quickly. He was going to say something different, but the words died in his throat. Shiro broke the eye contact and crossed his arms. Suddenly, speaking about all of this was wrenching a coil in his chest. “We are a team. I’m just looking out for you,” he finally let out with a nervous chuckle.

Allura let out a breath, calming herself. The deep emotion in Shiro’s soft smile was enough to cool the emotions rising to the forefront of her mind. His last statement brought a smile to her own face. She couldn’t stay irritated at him. Her tone was gentle. “I know you are.” She added, “But trust me, I am watching Lotor. I will not allow him to betray us so easily.”

Chapter Text

Artificial night was fallen on the castle. Shiro was the only one awake at this ghastly hour. He shuffled through the clean white hallways, heading to his room from the star maps he had been scrutinising earlier. His sparse quarters were dimly lit with an Altean blue strip running along the wall. It was bright enough for him to find the journal he had been reading before bed. He scooped the book off his shelf and flopped tiredly onto the bed. A touch to the console embedded into the left-hand wall lit the space with golden hued light, perfect for evening reading.

His eyes tracked to where he had left off before. It was like reading someone else’s thoughts even if the heading was scratched with his name on every page. To be honest, he had no memory of the snippets of life that spilled on the papers’ faces. He blamed the Galra for such breaks in his life. A hole deep in his spirit ached with the lost memories. They clawed at him from inside like a shadow longing to be filled.

The image made him shudder, and he pulled his attention to the words in front of him. The sentences rang with loneliness and a sense of purpose vying against the morose emotion. It was touching despite the bittersweet feelings they conjured. Maybe that was the reason why he enjoyed reading through his old journals. They brought the past to life in way he could not. It was a function he was not accustomed to.

This particular piece seemed almost far-fetched. His former self was speaking of someone he loved. A man he missed…. Shiro’s tired reading only went that far, before sleep claimed the him... The story could continue tomorrow…

XxX

“Lotor, where are you?” His father’s usually harsh voice was filled with concern. It was an increasingly uncommon tone.

The tiny half-galra prince curled himself tighter into a ball. He screwed his eyes shut, hoping that if he could not see, then perhaps he would be unseen. Father could not find out…

“Lotor?!” Zarkon’s voice peaked with another notch of alarm.

The young one opened one eye. Maybe, this wasn’t what he feared? He carefully peered through the slit in the compartment where he was hidden. He hazarded a squeak. “Dada?”

Heavy boots stopped abruptly before turning toward Lotor’s hiding place. A shadow fell over the niche and Zarkon’s glowing eye peered through the opening. The huge warrior opened the compartment gingerly.

Hope soared in Lotor’s chest. And he reached for his father. His tiny hands gripped around heavy set shoulders as the Dark Lord took his son in his arms….

No, this is a lie. His consciousness fought back against the dream.

Zarkon’s face etched with worry. “Little one, what is wrong?”

Lotor’s mind fought back. The other half of his soul longed for the dream to continue. He relished the strong touch gripping his shoulders, wrapping around his waist in an embrace.

The kind look in those reptilian eyes slowly morphed into fear. Zarkon frowned. Lotor felt terror worm its way into his stomach. These cold hands holding him suddenly seared like ice. Lotor wriggled, attempting to get away. All his instincts told him run.

One truth and two lies stood.

Fear changed to anger, charging like a mountain storm into building rage. “You don’t trust me.” Zarkon’s growl was deep and resonant.

Freefall suddenly shook Lotor. Those strong hands let go. He screamed as the weightlessness overwhelmed his senses. His eyes closed, and darkness was comforting before his body hit the floor in a powerful impact. Breath swiftly fled his chest. A thousand fractures burned through his form like spikes of lightening on a summer evening.

Lotor groaned. The dream was quickly changing, pulling Lotor along forcibly. Scenery changed, and another pair of hands held him.

He was grown. Standing tall above the short woman next to him. A strong, small hand clasped his and the sweet smell of his mother wafted on the breeze to his nose. “One day soon, Lotor. You will be able to carry on my work,” she was saying.

A sad smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “How can this be?” He asked, knowing the answer but so captivated by the radiant face looking into his eyes.

It could not be, this is a lie. Reason vied for precious attention. His mother’s gentle words were indescribable…

“Son, promise me you will finish this.” A ruthless layer edged into her tone. A shadow flicked over her face.

Yes, this was another lie, formed in the dark recesses of a feverish mind.

“Promise me, you will attain everlasting… quintessence.” A raving hunger dictated the final word. A crescent of shade eclipsed Honerva’s face.

He wrestled to take control of the vision. This was going too far. Panic tightened in his chest. Distantly, he thought he could hear frantic beeping coming from a machine of sorts.

“Son.” The voice was harsh, berating like iron dragging across rock.

Lotor ripped his hand away from her ravenous grip. “No!”

Black shattered the dream like a dagger through ice. Lotor’s eyes snapped open. He was back in the medical bay. The screaming monitors tracked his raging heartbeat. He sucked in a breath, longing to dampen the burning sensation roaring in his chest.

“Lotor?” Allura’s voice was simultaneously relieved and alarmed. She waited till he looked at her to take his hand.

It took him a moment to analyse the situation. No one else was in the room. A soothing yellow glow lit the space, just enough light to allow easy movement, but dark enough to promote sleep. He was okay. The tattered dream was fading quickly. Her warm fingers were tangled with his. His heartrate was steadily returning to normal. Well, it was returning to some semblance of almost normal. He relaxed into the pillow and offered a weak smile to cover the remnants of terror that ran through his mind like skittering insects.

There was something about the way her eyes softened, and that little smile which peeked at the corner of her mouth. Even her messy bun was distinguishingly beautiful. It lit that stirring in the pit of his stomach. He carefully brought her hand to his mouth, gracing her petite fingers with his lips. The sensation thundered over him, making him yearn for more. It was a welcome distraction and filled the anxious caverns in his soul, slowly melting the pain away.

“Bad dream?” She questioned sympathetically.

He only nodded.

“It’s alright,” she said. “I am here.”

He sighed, not wishing to dilute the feelings warming him. The princess’ words lit a fire in his heart, yet there was the shadow of doubt lingering. He hedged as a thought came to him. Maybe it would be nice… He could try it, though the words were foreign… Lotor’s tongue navigated the syllables, but he wanted to. “Thank you.”

A bittersweet smile lit those sapphire eyes. Yes, those were the right words. Damn, he was pretty sure this was smitten. And as she leaned forward to kiss him, he fell further.

The kiss was slow and deliberate this time. So, unlike their first, tentative taste of this love. As her lips brushed easily over his own, he drowned in her intoxicating aroma. He gasped as she moved to sit beside him on the bed. Lotor leaned up on his elbows, yearning for a deeper kiss and revelling in the sensations racing down his spine, evaporating the last of his previous nightmares.

The taste of her drove her mad. Running on instinct, he pried for entrance into her mouth and she finally gave it. He deepened the kiss, darting his tongue across the corner of her mouth. Their tongues tangled uncoordinated for a second before Lotor became acquainted with the topography of her mouth. He drew her out for him like nectar. His bare hand ran up her shoulder to cup her jaw. Subtle stirrings in his trousers demanded attention.

However, he ignored them for now. Moving agonisingly slow, drawing every moment out. He wanted to remember this… Lotor nibbled at her lip with his fangs to distract himself. Her grip settled around his knee and he fought the instinct to buck his hips. He elicited a soft mewl from her as he broke the kiss to suck in a sharp breath. His vehement golden eyes locked gazes with her.  

For long seconds, he felt frozen in this pleasure they had entered together. There was a fierce need in her eyes and Lotor loved the fire it put in her. It gave her a strength which he had never seen. He broke the contact, grinning sloppily and stealing a bold kiss before toppling back down on his pillow. He was growing tired quickly and falling asleep with her standing watch sounded like a wonderful idea.

Allura threaded her fingers in his, content to let the lingering kiss fade on her mouth. They both needed to sleep and watching him so… different around her was growing on her. She took a chance and folded herself beside him, still holding his hand. She whispered as his breathing evened out, “Thank you too.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Lotor awoke without her beside him. Memories of yesterday’s nightmares were blissfully distant. The grogginess that had plagued his mind was gone and the pain in his leg was decreased dramatically. The room was empty. Good, it gave him time to think.

His thoughts drifted to all of the current events that had happened in the past few days. It was far easier now, when he was not wrestling with his own mind. He carefully sat up, meaning to get up but delaying his effort when a wave of dizziness washed over him.

He should have been thinking about their next move, but Allura kept showing up in his thoughts. How could she not? You had your tongue down her throat last night. It was amazing how deadpan his internal voice could be. A scowl stretched across his face and he ran his long, slender fingers through his white mane. His frown deepened. A bath was certainly in order.

There was no denying it anymore. Lotor was… attracted to Allura at the very least. Well, don’t be modest. Sell her your soul too. Lotor sighed. “Fine,” he mumbled to himself. He knew saying the words aloud would them so much more real. But realism would keep him grounded, focused. Indeed, there was no denying that Allura held a key to his peace. He was unsure how she held such an advantage over him, but it was addictive and intoxicating in an irresistible way. She was delicious. He licked his lips as the taste her came back to him.

He shook his head, astounded with himself. He could not recall the last time he had allowed someone into his life; one who could sway his meaning. Now, Allura was teetering precariously close to that line. His instincts told him knowing her would be a grave threat to his integrity and his end game…. Still, he could not describe the feeling that welled in his heart when she was in his presence. It was calm, serene. The novel feeling was so foreign to him. It was new and intriguing, a feeling that made him complete. He wanted to experience it for all it had.

And you can, but never forget your purpose.

The statement halted his musing like cold water. It was right. His truest purpose as the son of Zarkon, a leader of the Galran Empire, was to strengthen the galaxy under him. It would be his Empire one day and he would need a queen, though…

Maybe he was planning too far ahead. He chastised himself and swung the sheets off his body. The present was imperative. Lotor would focus on the present till he was sure the next move could be plotted. Right now, this solar system was important. Allura was important as well… Somehow…. As stress relief.

A pang of guilt stirred in him, but he nudged the sensation away. Gingerly, he pushed his legs off the edge of the bed, and he sat like that, half naked with his legs dangling for a long time before the slight vertigo disappeared. His gold eyes scanned the room. Now, he only had to find his clothes and hopefully a shower.

XxX

Allura offered a small smile when Lotor swept into the room. He was looking much better, not the slightest limp marred his confident stride as he came to her side. “Lotor,” she greeted.

The prince gave her a smile of his own. “Princess.” His eyes flicked to take in Shiro, who was standing on Allura’s right. He offered the man a trifling nod.

The creases that showed up at the corners of the man’s eyes were almost imperceptible. Lotor fought the urge to smirk. He turned his attention back to Allura, who was explaining the view on the monitor swaying in front of the trio. She said, “This is actually where the terraforming plant is located.” Her slender finger indicated a green spot on the holographic planet. “It is certainly a prototype. It doesn’t resemble the one we found on Naxzela.” She glanced back at Coran, who was sitting at a console, watching the conversation and manning the computer. “Please bring back that image you created. The one you showed me.”

A subtle worried expression crossed the veteran’s face but the Altean complied. A sea green, topographic image of the planet replaced the previous scene. Large bodies of water and many little rivers smothered what dry land could be discerned. It was obviously an ocean world.

"This is the original world," Allura said indicating the hovering 2D image.

Lotor’s eyebrow quirked. Few planets had such a climate. It was a universal rarity for a world to be entirely covered with water. He could count on his fingers how many he knew. Immediately, his mind began to run scenarios to explain why the Alteans would actually, willingly, change the world to something as common as mountainous terrain. He glanced at Shiro once again. A recollection of the Paladin’s first reaction upon seeing the planet came to him. This was a copy of their home planet…

The half-Galra was unable to continue down his tangent when Shiro spoke up, “There is evidence suggesting this was an experiment. On further examination, we can see that each planet is slightly ‘improved’.” He closed his mouth, taciturn again.

Allura nodded and met Lotor’s eyes. There was the slightest hint of doubt in her smooth voice. “We have not found any record of Alteans colonising or even experimenting on the other planets.” She swallowed. “However, we have found some small, buried settlements with remnants of Galran technology.”

Lotor’s mind snapped closed, suddenly on the defensive. However, his face remained impassive. “I have no knowledge of Galran activities in this area.” His voice was curt.

Allura swallowed and continued. “We believe the operation was a secret. It seems they were attempting to cultivate the mineral that streaked the mountains. It is highly resistant to energy weapons and even reflects most power projected upon it.”

Lotor listened with razor sharp ears, refiling through every nuance of her voice. It left a distasteful feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he was running on protective instincts. He was unsure whether it was paranoia, but when she said the word ‘they’ it sounded like she was saying ‘you’.

“Perhaps, the Galra found the planets after the Alteans left,” he said. His frustration grew as the conversation continued.

“Actually, Lotor. The Galra held my people captive. We found remnants of slave camps,” she stated flatly.

There was no more beating around the bush. She was fuming on the inside and Lotor could now see the flames hidden deeply behind her irises. He cursed himself for not looking past her layers. You are weakening. A flame of panic lit in the back of his mind, but he violently pushed it away before forging his face into a stoic expression. “That is conceivable,” he sidled. “I wonder why the operation was halted.”

Allura shook her head. “I have no idea,” she sighed. She didn’t know why she had hoped for some inkling of compassion from him. It was too soon to expect that from him.

“Do you have a plan for our next move?” Lotor’s mind whirred. “Is there any way to get the mining facilities running?” he quickly amended. “The coalition could be greatly rewarded with access to such an ore.”

The princess fought the wave of nausea that mounted at the thought of using the abominations her people had unwillingly suffered on. She reminded herself of her duty to the present. “We could… attempt it.”

Lotor opened his mouth to suggest an idea when he was cut off by a bleeping followed by Coran’s voice. “Princess, we are receiving a communication!” Stark confusion highlighted his next words. “It is coming from inside the castle?!”

Chapter Text

Lotor’s eyebrows arched as he turned to face the Altean man. It was a welcome distraction even if it were a puzzling one.

Allura tilted her head as Coran repeated his words more calmly. His eyes were glued to the blinking monitor in front on him. “It seems to be emanating from the royal quarters.” His voice held even more confusion. “It is Altean, princess.” Coran pierced Allura with an anxious expression.

A dozen possibilities passed through Lotor’s mind. His first thought pointed to an intruder. Lotor pressed his lips into a thin line, sliding his gaze to take in Allura. A stowaway would have had much time to board “Blue” while they were on the surface. It would not entirely explain the Altean source of the message, but perhaps an intruder could be using the Castle’s own comm array to broadcast a communication elsewhere…

Allura broke into his thoughts with another suggestion, one that silenced his musing. There was obvious excitement in her tone as she exclaimed, “Is it coming from my sleeping quarters!?”

Coran did an admirable job of keeping his jaw from hitting the floor. Shiro held no qualms against letting his surprise show. Lotor plastered a stoic expression onto his face. This was certainly interesting. Lotor had not expected that question but there was something about the shine in her eyes that made him think back to their previous escapade on the planet below.

“Do you mean…” Coran struggled to find the right words, so he just turned his face back to the monitor. Understanding slowly dawned behind Coran’s moustache and he nodded as he read. “I see. Princess, if you are expecting a … communication, it is coming from your quarters,” he said.

A flicker of disappointment toned Coran’s voice. “I am unsure where exactly the frequency is originating.”

Allura smiled radiantly. “Thank you, Coran. Please, if you wish, I will show you all, if you like.” She turned to look at Lotor. A shadow of reluctance crossed her face. Lotor picked up the inkling of emotion in the instant before she graced him with a polite smile. He had no idea how to interpret the breach into her mind. It rushed a blaze of anxiousness through his mind. However, his face remained cold. He held far more expertise than the princess.   

“Yes. Please lead on princess,” Lotor spoke equally polite. He flourished for her to make towards the door. She did just that, smiling genuinely this time before turning down the hallway to hastily lead the males to what was obviously significant.

Lotor quickly found himself walking beside her, with Coran on his opposite side. Shiro’s sharp glare drove deeply into Lotor from behind, but the half-Galra kept his mind from the vulnerable position by attempting a ‘private’ conversation with the princess.

It was awkward.

“Allura, this wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with our little silver box, would it?” He caught her gaze relishing being able to speak of something only she and him knew of. For whatever reason, it gave him a thrill he never experienced before. Maybe the small talk would also break the ice that had fallen between them during their earlier conversation concerning… Alteans… Don’t even think it. It will show. She is knowing you more each second. And you let it. He chastised the voice…

“Is that the trinket Allura mentioned earlier?” Coran said, twisting his moustache and running a calculating stare over the half-breed.

Lotor refrained from snarling at the Altean man. Instead, he ignored the interruption, catching the princess’ azure gaze again. A girly enthusiasm was playing over her face. The sparkle in her lovely eyes told him he had hit home. A smirk touched the corner of his lips.

She chuckled, visibly relaxing with Coran’s cheap humour at Lotor’s expense. She wondered if the prince actually understood the effort. He probably didn’t. “Yes, both of you are correct. This morning I was attempting to open the piece of equipment with magic.”

Her brow furrowed as she thought back. Lotor felt a lump form in his throat. Butterflies took flight in his stomach. You are so pitiful. Why do you even try? Don’t open your mout—

“Did it work?” He asked, immediately hearing the words as intensely stupid. Obviously, it did work. Worthless fool.

Allura did not seem to think so harshly about the question. Her voice took on more pep. “I think it did,” she said.

“I agree. If you are receiving a communication through it, you must have done something, princess,” Coran chimed in with that annoyingly cheerful voice.

Lotor screwed his face into a smile. Inside shame roared up. Pathetic. Even the others will begin to notice this degradation of your character. An almost physical feeling of pain shot through his chest. He kept the façade up until the four of them passed into Allura’s private library. His mind immediately switched gears.

The space was a large square room with floor-ceiling shelves of tangible books as well as holographic datapads intermingled amongst the parchment. The lighting was turned low but immediately came to life when Allura stepped into the centre of the room. A small, comfortable seating area was positioned to the far left of the room. Even a few study tables, strewn with brightly illustrated scrolls, were placed in a corner and looked well-used.

Lotor tore his gaze from the mass of knowledge when Allura spoke, almost bashfully. “I believe that only Coran has been to this part of the Castle,” she started.

A genuine smile ghosted Lotor's lips when Allura waved proudly to the room. Lotor thought he caught only the slightest hint of colour splash onto her cheeks when her azure eyes flitted his way. “This is where much history is kept.” She added as if explaining a disclaimer, “Although, most of the information is dull and archaic.”

That familiar burn for knowledge gained strength inside Lotor. He suppressed the feelings very quickly. The ideas would have to wait until they had finished their business.

“Yes, I remember the ways Alfor would coax you into learning your galactic history,” Coran chuckled.

A shiver ran down Lotor’s spine, but he shoved the memories away. They would not return.

“Yes,” Allura said deadpan. She turned around a high shelf into another studying niche.

Lotor’s eyebrows shot up when his eyes fell on the small silver box that he and Allura had uncovered. The hinge was open and inside the container was a small, round communications device. It glowed the familiar Altean blue.

Allura quickly reached out to it, flicking switches on the antiquated piece of equipment as if she knew the trinket well. Shiro leaned forward, mouth pressed into a thin line but curiosity burning in his grey eyes. Lotor obtrusively moved to the princess’ side, making his point to the man and gaining a perfect view of Allura’s sure movements. The look of determination on her face put the butterflies back into his stomach. Pathetic. You are pathetic.

He didn’t realise he was staring at every feature on her beautiful face – from the dainty marks running along her smooth cheek bones to the sharp points of her ears. Even the way her bottom lip tightened when she was focused… The memory of that kiss last night still tingled…

The machinery crackled to instant life and a script ran before their eyes. Lotor quickly wrenched his attention back to the matter at hand, reprimanding himself.

Allura and Coran’s faces were scrunched up close to the holograph flickering from the device. Altean letters stood microscopically in the air.

An anticlimactic murmur broke the long silence.  “Hmmm… You know, princess. Does it have a zoom feature?” Coran offered.

Shiro tutted, leaning in next to Lotor to see… despite the fact that the motion conjured the feeling of putting one’s hand down a snake den.

A frown creased Allura’s forehead. “Um.”

“Can you read any of it?” Lotor asked uncertainly.

Allura squinted for a long moment. “Well.…” Another minute ticked by “…no,” she sighed, shoulders slumping and an ungodly look covering her beautiful face

 

Chapter Text

Lotor leaned back in the comfortable seat across from Allura. The princess was fiddling with the many controls on the metal disc. The Altean letters hovered and shook with every careful attempt. Luckily, nothing had made the message disappear, yet.

The two now sat alone in Allura’s private study. Shiro had left to assemble the other Paladins. Coran had left to attend to maintenance of the Castle. He claimed that Allura and Lotor could manage to crack the mystery together.

“You are, after all, the mystical ones,” Coran had said, twisting his moustache and striding out.

Presently, Lotor mused what the Altean man had meant by that. That one had always been the most difficult to decipher… Whatever he had meant, Lotor was glad to be alone with the princess once again. Though they had been attempting to fix the damned communicator for over an hour, he relished the company. Not to mention that being free to let loose… somewhat… was tempting.

Don’t push it.

The voice was tugging hard again. It was a constant buzz in the back of his head, starting up as soon as Shiro had given him that hard look before leaving the room. It didn’t matter, Lotor told himself. The chase for knowledge was too much. He pushed the thought of Shiro’s overbearing (and his father’s constant ghost) away.

Instead, he decided to take advantage of the situation. He followed intuition and let his hands move on their own accord.

When his hand settled over hers, her cerulean gaze snapped up to meet his, making his mouth dry.

It was still surreal that he could do this. That any time he could dare to touch her, and she would not recoil. It made his head swim. A weightless feeling filled his chest and it almost made him lightheaded.  His clumsy words made his cheeks burn, but he felt like it was right… it was supposed to sound comforting… “You can figure it out after a break?”

Nope. Failure. Failure.

Allura giggled, slipping her hand away from his. Unexpectedly, she leaned across the table and her hand moved up to tuck a stray lock of his hair behind his ear.

He tried disparately not to look like a forest creature caught in the beams of oncoming traffic. When the quick contact passed, he felt like one who had been woken from the dead. Mind racing, he found something else to say. Loving the way, she laughed again. “Breaks are nice,” he urged.

Sirens were blaring deep in his head, reprimanding him. Painful memory threatened to return to him, but another feeling was winning. It burned down his spine like electricity. He loved it.

She smiled. “Breaks are nice,” she agreed. Her face lit up and she stood, loving the blush spreading across Lotor’s purple cheeks. Seeing him this happy, she would have never imagined caring for this man. She never imagined being able to melt the son of Zarkon by sitting next to him. She grinned taking the lead in the conversation for his sake. “What do you think it says?”

Lotor was still taking in her smell, her warmth pressed against his side. He swallowed. “I don’t know. I hope it is not something completely worthless,” he amended.

She snorted. “Well, I should hope not,” she said. That thought had crossed her mind. Another thought popped into her head. “You said that you have done extensive studies on Alteans, can you speak it?”

A dark flame lit in his mind, but he forcefully extinguished it. He focused on the beautiful lilt in her voice, envisioning the princess speaking her native tongue. The distraction was powerful. So, he divulged his secret. Speaking in that language which he had been forbidden to utter, “Yes, I can princess.”

Her face lit up and she twisted beside him to look at his face. “You can!”  She exclaimed in the same language.

Lotor grinned, no longer suppressing the happiness swelling his spirit. He chuckled. That feeling of breaking all the rules came over him again. “I learned long ago. It is a beautiful language when appreciated for what it is,” he rambled. Damn, he loved that radiant look in her crystal eyes. He cautiously draped his arm around her shoulders.

She leaned against him, slipping an arm over his stomach. A look of bliss was blossoming on her face, making her marks glow a more vivid pink. “You speak it so well,” she praised.

“Thank you.” That phrase was growing on him especially since it seemed to make her smile.

“Did you teach yourself?” It sounded like a silly question, but she was curious.

Lotor nodded. “I did.”

“Amazing,” she sighed and leaned further onto him. She was almost glowing from the feel of his touch. His strong arm over her shoulder was taking her over the edge. They sat together in contented silence for almost a full dobash.

She finally broke the silence. “I haven’t been able to speak it with anyone for so long.” A forlorn tone stained the moment. “Besides Coran of course,” she added fondly.

The change of tone shook him from his relaxation. Unsure about what to say, and desperate to turn the conversation he blurted, “You have me now.”

Something about saying those four words in that language felt like the ultimate betrayal. He shook the sensation away as best as he could, but it rocked his core. Suddenly, all the voices roared to life. His pulse quickened and this time it was not from Allura’s touch. A dark hole ripped open in his chest, filling quickly with onrushing anxiety.

Allura sensed the sudden change in his behaviour. She regretted saying that. His body tensed and even the aura surrounding him became grey.

She took it as her moment. He might not believe her, but courage told her to try. “And you have me.” She took his hand firmly and met his stubborn, gold eyes. They were growing cold and distant. “I…” her words were faltering. She had no clue what to say to the man warring a fight she could not perceive. She called on the memory of her father to help her.

“I am here for you. I care about you. I mean that. I think we can bridge the fissure our fathers made.” She chose her words carefully. “I believe we can, together, and I will help you however I can, Lotor.” She stared deep into his eyes meaning so much more than what the words stated alone.

The longest silence passed between them. Lotor ached to say yes, to run into her arms and feel safe.  So many broken pieces fought within his soul. Memories and engrained instincts battled. If he could, he would have cried like he had so long ago. He wanted… needed solace. Fear’s shadowed face reared, cratering his soul and weighing down on his spirit. This is a fling. She doesn’t mean that. When has anyone ever meant what they said? Never.

He slammed the doors down. Now was not the time to be getting into such discussions. Where had the light-hearted play from earlier gone? He forced a smile onto his face, retreating from the powerful feelings. Again, locking himself back into his mental prison.

“Thank you, princess,” he said impassively, switching back to the universal language. “I am of like mind.” His eyes flicked back to the holographic enigma they had been working on before this ‘break’. “Maybe we can grow closer to that end after interpreting this message.”

She unfolded from his side, leaving an empty void where warmth had been. “Yes, you are right,” she tried not to sound disappointed. At least the offer was out now. She turned her face away to hide the shimmering tears in her sapphire eyes.

Chapter Text

He slammed the door shut, knowing no one had followed him to his quarters. His shirt was the first thing to be thrown across the room. Heavy boots flew into the far wall. Anger burned through him like molten metal. It coursed through his veins causing his filthy Altean marks to glow. They traced lavender aberrations along his muscular arms and back.

Lotor ground his teeth, sweeping his arm over the sparsely occupied chest across his bed. Items clattered to the floor. A scream boiled deep within him, slipping out as a loud growl that tore at his throat. He brought his hands up to his temples and squeezed, urging the voices to leave him alone. They never listened.

You are weak. You claim to hold control and yet you are AFRAID. Use this anger, utilise your fear to overcome these basal needs.

“How?!” He forced the words though clenched teeth. Foam flecked his lips. Sharp pressure flooded his ears.

She means nothing.

Another non-answer. Rage brimmed over. Hopelessly, he fell onto to the bed. Tears were threatening to come, but they would not fall. The lump in his throat was enormous, but he had been unable to break the watershed for years now.

She means nothing. The words reverberated in his skull.

His hands shook and balled into fists. She cared. She meant everything. But how? His emotions swung the opposite direction once again. How could she care about him? When she found out everything he had ever done, she would cast him aside. This he knew. This thing they had growing between them was all a game. He was playing her and, unwittingly, she was playing too.

She has only scratched the surface of you, wretch.

The truth in those words was crushing. He felt like crying again. Not for the first time he wondered. Was this insanity? Being stuck in this constant loop of arguing with the different parallels of himself… Lotor covered his eyes with his forearm, urging, pleading for tears to fall.

None came, and another wave of rage overwhelmed him. It was exhausting. He sank his talons around his shoulders, focusing on the pain instead of the words running circles in his head.

She had offered him help. She genuinely wished to help him. Would that hand still be extended when she finally knew him? Was she worrying for him right now, since he had abruptly left her? Would she still worry for his sake when she learned every last ragged atrocity he had committed? Was it enough that his reasons were just? Wasn’t that enough?

No. Not for her. If she does continue trying, she only wants something from it.

“Allura is not like me,” he whispered hoarsely. The words ached his heart. Why was he like this?

Then she would be forced to break the promise.

The realisation branded deep into his soul. He ran his bloody fingertips over his face in despair. Lotor rose from the bed and paced. A deranged resolve lit his face, followed quickly by darkening anger.  

“I am not like you,” he spat. The thick voice did not sound like his own. It was vengeful and saturated with hatred. He wrung his claws over his forearms. Chills broke out over his body.

I am you.

He shattered.

You are all these fucking memories!” He screamed the words, pounding both fists into the wall. Caution went out the airlock and he smashed the heels of his hands into the wall over and over. “I am not you,” he choked out. It wasn’t true.

Cycle after cycle swallowed him until blood ran down his biceps, dribbling around his bare feet in dark puddles on the metal floor. Bruises marred his sculpted hands. A scarlet smudge stained the wall.

He slumped to his knees, still unable to let the tears fall. Numbness and exhaustion left him vulnerable to the flashbacks. It happened every time. He was trapped.

Chapter Text

Allura’s shoulders slumped. She wracked her brain, searching desperately for the reason he had left in such a rush. The mood had certainly calmed down after their… bonding moment… That was the only way she could describe their previous conversation during their break between deciphering the code.

The code… It still hovered unsolved over the silver box. A flame of annoyance sparked to life and she rashly slammed the communicator closed.

She growled when it popped and hissed. Her hands hurriedly opened the machine again to check its status. Please, don’t be broke… The Altean words once again bloomed to life. They flickered and enlarged into readable font.

Despite the resolved dilemma, her jaw clenched as frustration mounted once again. “Fine,” she ground out. “Why didn’t you do this earlier?” She asked to no one in particular.

She didn’t even read the message as a wave of guilt came over her. Maybe she had pushed him too far. It was hard to believe that a monster like Zarkon could have raised Lotor with any semblance of love…

A blush crept up her cheeks.

Yes, she was beginning to love him… Alright… maybe she was already in love with him. She was fairly certain she had partaken in this conversation with herself before. Her shoulders slumped further, and she palmed her face. Allura was also a novice at this thing called ‘love’. She recalled memories between her father and mother.

They had been so close, seemingly depending only on each other.

She sighed and hugged herself. That was farfetched, even for her. Maybe ‘love’ was too strong of a word.

Her sapphire eyes flicked back to the hovering message and Allura read the line of characters several times before she comprehended their meaning. The string of letters and numbers was a set of coordinates.

Her brow scrunched with dawning curiosity. She bolted upright and opened up a console set into the table. A holographic map of the universe shimmered to life a handspan above the generator set into the tablet top.

Her fingers flew over the small keyboard, entering the code carefully into the computer.

A tick later, the map swivelled and zoomed on the system they currently resided within. A trace of confusion passed over her face. She brought the map into more focus with an index finger. A small, red blip on the holo indicated a region on another planet in the system – one of the earlier “experiments”.

The princess sat staring at the geography for a long time. A million thoughts and speculations ran through her mind. Lotor incessantly threatened to distract her attention. He will want to know, but I am not sure he would appreciate interruption on whatever he is doing… resting probably.

A whir from the door interrupted her silent debate. Shiro entered. He was followed quietly by Pidge and Lance. Shiro’s steely eyes were immediately drawn to the holograph in front of her. “Did you figure it out?” He asked hopefully.

Allura smiled and stepped aside to let the three gain a better look at the planet and indicated coordinates. “Yes, I believe so.”

“So, these designate a position on an earlier version of the last planet?” Pidge asked, analysing the enigma before her. “Won’t the code match on any of the versions?”

Allura considered the possibility. Curious now, she typed the sequence into the database again. This time she specified a search on the planet she and Lotor had visited. A location popped into the air. It was identical to the previous picture.

Lance broke the musing silence. “What does that mean?”

Pidge shrugged. “I am not sure,” she mused with one hand on her chin. She smirked. “I wanted to see if it worked. After all, I have never seen twin planets… quadruplet planets,” she quickly modified. “I would suggest checking both places out since we don’t even know if the newest planet was even ‘born’ when these were recorded.”

The princess crossed her arms and stared into the holograph. An impassive look crossed her mind. She weighed the significance of the information. This was becoming a complex task and for what? Initially, she had felt a connexion drawing her here to this system. Her brow creased. There was no hope that any Alteans remained on the planets. They would have shown up on the planetary scans. It had been a foolish idea anyways.

She and Coran were the only Alteans left in the universe. Even this colony had been destroyed. They had been used as slaves till this operation was cancelled or stopped. But by whom? Maybe that was the question she was here to answer.

No, this was not about a personal quest to achieve Altean memories. This was about the fate of the universe. Her life goal was peace. She could not, would not, become distracted by her private yearnings. This was war.

What Lotor had mentioned about the valuable ore within the mountainous regions below, returned to her. Utilising the element left a bitter taste in her mouth. But if it fell into the wrong hands, it would make their fight all the more difficult.

Allura lifted her eyes from the glittering blue planet. She was aware of the other Paladins watching her intently.

Shiro was the one to break the silence. “What do you want to do?” He asked gently. He knew the emotional investment Allura had made into this mission. These were the horrific remnants of her people’s last injustice. An echo of his own home played at the back of his mind. It was strangely distant.

“We will stay here three more days and attempt to find out what happened. Afterwards, we cannot afford to stay any longer.” A thought occurred to her. “Perhaps” –

All theories were cut short by a wailing siren.

 

Chapter Text

Lotor strode powerfully onto the bridge. The alarm that still rang through the empty hallways was quieter now, but the noise stabbed into his head like a blade. His golden eyes immediately took in the surroundings.

It was almost a repeat picture of the first time during this mission when he had stepped into the massive room. Coran was at the helm staring intently outside. Allura stood beside him, her features painted with determination and fear. The other Paladins were just breaking out, presumably to head to their lions.

The last thing he noticed was the fleet of six Galran ships outside. His jaw slackened. “What happened?” He asked levelly.

Allura turned to look at him. He clearly noticed the concern flash through her gaze. He ignored it.

She answered uncertainly. “We are under attack by the Galra.”

“No, not the Galra!” Coran interjected flabbergasted. “We are a receiving a hailing channel.” The Altean man looked up at the massive screen that popped up at the fore of the bridge.

A grizzled navy-blue face appeared on the screen. It was a male humanoid. An eyepatch and a bright red eye stared out at them. His bushy, silver moustache bristled as a rough baritone voice spat, “You’re in Stormclaw territory. Prepare to be boarded.”

Pirates. Lotor would have never guessed. A dozen calculations went through his mind. How in the hells did they acquire a whole fleet…?! His eyes were forcibly drawn to the princess.

That flame of resistance ignited Allura’s eyes. Her stance immediately changed from that of anxiety to a mixture of resolve and relief.

He found himself mirroring her, folding his arms defensively.

“Name yourself. We have done nothing,” Allura stated flatly.

“This is Captain Xagor Yurn of the Stormclaws and ya did do something. This is our space. Enter here and we take your ship. It’s the law around here.” The humanoid took a deep huff from a pipe, shrouding the field of view.

“You have 60 ticks before I send my lads.” The dark face disappeared from the screen.

Allura glanced to Coran. Rarely, had they encountered pirates. She hated to fight others who were not Galra… or allied with them. She debated divulging their own identity as the Paladins of Voltron.

“What’s the plan?” Lance asked from the doorway.

Lotor’s ear twitched. He had thought the others gone from the bridge. Now, he could sense the others. All of them waiting hesitantly by the entrance.

Shiro took charge. “Contact them. Tell them we will not back down. Warn them who they are dealing with.”

Coran opened a channel to the main private frigate. Allura spoke, “We will not surrender our ship. I advise you leave us be. We are the Paladins of Voltron and do not wish to engage in violence. However,” Her tone darkened with a lovely timbre which Lotor immediately lusted. “We will defend ourselves.”

There was no vocal response, but the alarms began again. Lotor’s gaze snapped outside just as a motley wave of fighters spilled from the main frigate.

“Looks like they want to fight. Everyone to your lions,” Shiro ordered.

Allura’s jaw set in what Lotor could only translate as grim resolution. He was painfully reminded of how good she really was. He couldn’t meet her eyes as she swept out of the bridge with the others.

XxX

“The Castle’s shields can take the fire from the smaller ships. Pidge, what are the armaments on the frigates?” Shiro’s clipped voice stood out so starkly in chaos of battle.

“Outfitted with standard Galran defence systems and several illegal modifications. I am not scanning anything very large,” Pidge replied. 

“These are meant to take down way smaller ships, right?” Hunk sounded relieved somehow.

“They should be no problem for our offensive weaponry.” An uncertain tone came to Pidge’s voice. “Are we taking the offensive?”

“No,” Allura’s words cut through the channel clearly. “We will shoot down any fighters that come too close to the Castle, but we will not be attacking.”

Shiro nodded inside his lion. He slowed his lion’s pace. They hovered in a line ready to meet the oncoming force. As the seconds dwindled onward Shiro felt the familiar rush that came to him every time he geared himself for warfare. Time slowed, and he was able to comprehend the situation from afar.

The fighters were nearing, coming fast. The myriad essences sitting behind the machines were confident, even gleeful. They saw only their previous victories, plucking off stray freighters and small Galran patrols. He guessed as much by the classes of starfighters racing towards them.

Two seconds had gone by. He ground his teeth. They were so close now. Almost within calculated range.

A red streak of energy came blasting forth from one of the fighters. It was the beacon that lit the fight.

Suddenly, a rain of blasts fell like a wall on the Paladins. Shiro shot his lion upwards as the wave of enemies broke off of their prior courses and scattered on their own accord. Two decrepit Galran fighters followed him higher.

He felt a small smile touch his lips. “You want a chase?” The words were only a breath.

He rolled to port leading the pilots into a whirring maze of light as he zagged back and forth across the starscape. He kept his finger loosely hovering over the trigger. His goal was minimum carnage.

The two did an admirable job keeping on his tail. His lion flew faster. A peppering of blue energy narrowly missed Black’s rear end. Shiro smirked, feeling the powerful sensation of the lion syncing with him. It was indelible. A roar bubbling in his chest. He was one with his lion. The majestic beast was enjoying this game of cat and mouse.

Another spray of fire burst out. This time, the pirates’ aim was more precise. Shiro was aware of another pair of fighters flying swiftly form his starboard side. They meant to wedge him between four lines of fire.

Shiro’s silver eyes hardened. They were coming too quickly. He flung his lion starboard instantly head on with the two newcomers. His thumb pressed the trigger. A sheet of blue energy decimated the pilots.

Black spun over the blossoming explosion. He pushed his lion downwards and to the left. The pirates had quick instincts and had immediately pulled off his tail. However, he was now the aggressor stalking them. With two shots, he put them out of commission as well.

His eyes quickly ran over his monitors. The chase had taken him out of the Castle’s immediate vicinity. A dozen starfighters still buzzed around the other Paladins. These pirates were not giving up.

With a couple flicks on his dashboard, Shiro initiated an open channel. His tone was firm. “Stormclaws, this is the Black Paladin of Voltron. Call off your fighters. We will resort to lethal fire in 10 ticks.”

Black wavered behind. Shiro pinpointed each of the others’ positions. The seconds pounded in his head. 1…2…3…

Lance was tailing an ancient, heavily modified freighter.

4…5…6….

Pidge was deftly evading a trio of small, fast fighters.

7…8…

Hunk was being trailed by matte black Galran fighter. It weaved skilfully through every move Hunk put it through. Allura was fighting to get behind the matte fighter’s tail.

9… 10

Black rushed forward into the fray. He immediately took down two fighters pestering the Castle.

A massive detonation flashed into his cockpit from Lance finishing the heavy freighter he had been shadowing. The ship had obviously been carrying explosives.

The battle only lasted three minutes after that. Shiro found himself taking a deep breath when Allura finally shot down the last fighter.

He was only allowed that second-long respite when space was lit up once again and the frigates opened fire.   

Chapter Text

Allura tightened her grip on her lion’s controls. She pushed Blue into a tight turn to evade the storm of light bombarding the team.

Lance’s voice crackled through her speakers. “These guys aren’t taking the hint. Should we take them out?”

Shiro answered quickly. “Everyone behind me. We will strafe one of the frigates,” he ordered.

With a deep breath, Allura maneuvered her lion behind their leader. She wondered how much these brigands were willing to lose.

XxX

Lotor held a hand to his chin. He was standing quietly behind Coran, who was busy managing the shielding systems.

The fiery rain emanating from the fleet was unceasing. The pounding reverberated up Lotor’s boots. It reminded him of the endless drills he had endured during his childhood.

---

“Mount the forward shields!” The captain’s voice was livid.

“Too late!!” Fear permeated every sound.

A rushing shriek pierced the bridge as the forward viewport was penetrated. The atmosphere whipped into a violent, deafening gale. Bodies were ripped from their seats, instantly freezing in the sudden vacuum. Lotor’s breath was stripped from his lungs, leaving a raw burning sensation deep in his throat. His heart leapt with a thundering pace.

The gap was only open for a handful of ticks before the heavy blast sheets slammed over the breach.

Lotor took a shaking breath. He knew he would never be rid of that instant.

“Get those vidscreens up!”

War was the harshest teacher. There wouldn’t be a next time. His tremoring fingers moved even faster.

---

The half-blood prince was pulled from his reminisce as Lance’s voice came over the communications system. The boy was inquiring about their next move. Shiro’s reply was the only one that made sense.

Lotor’s golden eyes flicked out the window. The lions were streaking straight towards one of the flanking Galran cruisers. He found himself watching mesmerised as the pinpoints of colour weaved over the ancient vessel. A string of explosions followed each colour like beads along a thread. The lions cut through the defences effortlessly. It was an undeniable display of superior power punctuated, ended, by one final detonation that sent the ship sinking under a pall of smoke.

For a moment, Lotor thought that the pirates would continue the attack even after the massive defeat. It would be entertaining… He chided himself for thinking so barbarically.

The grizzled voice from earlier tore through the bridge. “Stop your attack!” The words dripped wounded venom. Not one tick later, the barrage halted.

Coran straightened from his post. Outside, the lions were regrouping. The frigates began moving slowly through the darkness. They were repositioning, changing directions towards the furthest planet in the system.

Allura’s voice was calm over the channel. For whatever reason, it made Lotor’s heart ache. “State your intentions.”

A pause sent static over the open frequency. After a handful of ticks, the gruff voice spoke. “We intend to land on our planet,” he growled. Lotor could feel the hatred through the comm. “Unless you wish to trespass there too,” Yurn spat.

Coran’s eyebrows jumped up in surprise. The man looked at a loss for words. How did one go about saying that they did, in fact, intend to land on said planet… on a historic enterprise of all things? Lotor only smirked, enjoying watching the man fumble through options before finally deciding to remain silent. Wise.

Thankfully, Allura broke the silence instead of her untactful captain. Her voice still held that firm, calm tone. It cut through the angst effortlessly. “If you must know, we do actually have business on your planet.” She took a deep breath and explained as if talking to a small child. “We are examining several places of historical interest on the surface.”

Another long silence passed before Yurn replied icily. “That is the only reason you are here?”

Lotor crossed his arms. His eyes stared intently at the points of light outside. The lions were hovering in standby around the Castle. 

“Yes,” Allura answered resolutely. Lotor’s stomach fluttered. He chastised his straying thoughts. Should we reiterate our earlier argument? He cowed at the thought. The raking streaks under his armour burned with the memory.

There was a grumble on the other side of the channel quickly followed by, “Alright. But keep your main ship off the surface. We have a delicate ecosystem.”

Lotor tutted. The miserable pirate was in no way to have given any other answer to the Paladins. Briefly, he wondered if Allura would have forced it if Yurn had been stubborn and refused. The idea was intriguing.

“We will land within the next varga.” Allura’s voice lightened as if she meant to appease the scoundrel. “Tell us the best place to set down.”

There was no reply and Lotor felt a flame of annoyance light. It was quickly quelled when the channel dropped and Allura spoke privately to the Castle. “Coran, stay alert but remain out of range. Lotor, can you decipher the most promising Galran outpost?” Her voice was so kind. Something warm laced every syllable directed to him and that pierced his aching soul.

Coran quickly brought up a holographic map of the planet they were hovering over. He fixed Lotor with a gaze that the half-galra could not discern. Lotor raised a perfect eyebrow and glanced at the topography.

“I… am not sure how much the princess told you, but we were searching the records for the research compound.”

The tentative nature of the words made a blush threaten to break over Lotor’s cheeks. The tiniest flicker of panic bolted down Lotor’s spine. Is it really that obvious? What is It?

That she likes you. Hell, she probably loves you. Remember that exhilarating kiss, idiot? She doesn’t kiss anyone like that…  His stomach capsized, and he suddenly felt sick. Deep betrayal made the nausea far more intense. Keeping a stoic face was difficult. He had never had this much trouble hiding his emotion than he did on this particular subject.

He made up his mind to focus on the specks of cement on the map… The blebs were supposed to signify buildings… It really was a low-quality map… Anxiety was filling his chest… Stop.

Coran spoke into his unspoken nervous breakdown. “What do you think?” The Altean made a point to meet his eyes.

It was suddenly and inexplicably distracting; the first time he had ever seen… recognition… in the man’s eyes. Unfamiliar feelings surfaced inside of Lotor and a sharp bite of wariness entered his mind but the tone in the air was suddenly… not unwelcome. It only lasted a moment before his defences clamped down on his reaction. Age-old habit and training kicked into gear like they always did in uncharted territory, but the taste of authenticity remained with him. It almost… almost… felt like those days so long ago.

 

Chapter Text

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Despite an overwhelming urge to greet the princess at her lion, Lotor remained on the bridge with Coran. He was also tentative to show his relief when she strode confidently into the large space, flanked by the other Paladins. However, when she passed him and gave him that soft smile, a mirror of the same feelings touched the corner of his mouth. It tugged at something inside of him, causing the bittersweet tang in his heart to loom nearly insurmountable. He wondered if she could notice it. If she could sense his distress, she showed little sign of it. That is better. Lest you worry her. Again, the thoughts made him physically ill.

The passing moment moved forward in the blink of eye, however. Time marched ever onward. He was reminded of this fact increasingly as the days went by.

Shiro spoke, “We can split into teams and comb through the outposts one by one. If anyone finds anything of interest or possible worth tag it with a locator.”

The other Paladins nodded unanimously. Lotor paid little attention to them. His mind was preoccupied with how he would fit into the upcoming plan. You shouldn’t even tempt yourself by going. Reason vied with the brash emotions Allura conjured within him.

Her strong voice decided without him. “Lotor can ride with me again.”

His frosty eyebrows lifted to the ceiling only slightly. It was the only display of reaction that he allowed to cross his face. Boldness shone in her eyes, but she didn’t meet his gaze. Instead, she turned and looked at Shiro. “Should we ready ourselves?”

Shiro nodded sagely and took the lead in the conversation. “Gather whatever you need for the surface exploration. Remember, we don’t trust these pirates. Coran can send us the coordinates that Lotor identified,” he finished with finality.

Hunk looked concerned. “How long are we planning on staying down there?”

Shiro twerked an eyebrow. “I am not sure,” he said with a hint of familiarity in his baritone voice. “I would recommend you pack enough food for a few days. We can always come back to the castle, but time is of the essence.”

The young Samoan man looked relieved. “Ah, okay.”

As the other Paladins filed out, Lotor caught Shiro giving him one last glance. An aura of ice passed between the two. It was a warning. Lotor could guess multiple reasons why. Lotor took the information and hid it away. The door hissed shut behind Shiro just as a touch to Lotor’s elbow sent lightning down his spine.

His golden irises snapped down to meet Allura’s eyes. There was a seriousness in her eyes and a transparent unease. Gooseflesh erupted on the nape of his neck. The echoing words of caution from earlier hushed. His brows knit together automatically in worry. “Yes?” He asked hesitantly quiet. He suddenly felt horribly exposed and his eyes darted to Coran, who was obliviously working at the Castle’s controls.

She gave him a tiny smile. “I want to talk with you,” she said just as quietly.

Claxons blared in his head and Lotor’s mind went into stunned lockdown. Did she know about his… misgivings? Did she uncover something… vile? He slammed on the breaks and forced his diaphragm to breath for him properly. He pasted a stoic look on his face, hoping for unknown reasons that it didn’t look too stern. He willed his tongue to say suavely, “Of course, princess.”

Hell, she blushed. A heat rose to his own face as he turned and waved her through the door before him. These feelings were the most fearsome enemies he had ever battled. His mind raced with possibilities. Questions about where he had gone to, where they were headed, if he felt comfortable going with her again, why he had left so swiftly a while ago…

Oh, heavens please not anything about if I like you. Please, nothing like that. She could accuse him of anything else and he would be prepared for it. Not that.

He cut off his musings by analysing the situation. She had not attempted to kill him, so he assumed this was relatively benign… He did not expect the sudden change in her behaviour as they rounded a corner.

“Lotor.” She sounded pained and nervous at the same time. Allura treaded carefully. “Are you okay?”

He blinked. That was the last thing he had expected to come out of her mouth. Autopilot made him blurt out a blatant “Yes.”

Worry crossed over her face and she frowned. “Are you sure? I am here to listen to any concerns.”

Lotor honestly had no idea how to respond to that. Be polite.

No. Now is your chance. Push her away. Cut this off before it becomes more painful. Before you must rip her away.

He was cast into a sharp recollection.

***

Lotor’ closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew what the mission required. It tore at his heart, but the objective was precious to him. Words he had never heard, but knew nonetheless, reverberated through his mind. He would never know where he had learned the maxim. Maybe he had created it. “Betrayal is only bitter if baseless.”

His fingers hovered over the sheath of his sword. His half-galran partner hiked beside him. They had been in this desert for too long. Only one warrior would last with their rations and water. Only one mattered.

The metallic twang of Lotor whipping his sword from his belt pierced the dry silence. He turned faster than the barren lightning storms that lighted each desert night since they had landed on this forsaken globe. The fear, panic, and shock on his partner’s face would forever be etched into Lotor’s face. It was one among a plethora lining the desolate halls of Lotor’s mind.

Tharburz’s decapitated body dropped heavily to the dusty ground. The thirsty land devoured his dark blood, caking into the soles of Lotor’s boots. “It wasn’t you, friend.”

***

Lotor came out of the flashback petrified. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. He wouldn’t kill her. He could never.

She dared not touch him. That instant of change on his face was unmistakable. He was only gone for a handful of precious seconds, but they seemed to move worlds for him. Allura could only imagine what traumas haunted him on a daily basis. She watched painfully unable to comfort him. It tore into her soul like a pair of daggers.

His mind slowed enough for him to get a grip on himself. You don’t need to do that right now.

The princess saw the shift in his perception. She actually caught the moment when he returned to the present. She imprinted the second into her memory… For next time. Now, she flabbergasted him. Moving quickly, boldly, she wrapped her arms around his slender waist, crushing his large body and pressing her cheek into his chest. His heart was pounding.

He stiffened, overwhelmed and caught completely unawares. Then that feeling washed over him again. Something keenly warm brushed over the knot in his chest. Her scent wafted up to him and her soft, strong body moulded to his stone muscles. A lump formed in his throat.

Millions of words flooded in his head only to dam up his mouth. He doubted they would ever come.

After a long, debating moment. He melted into her embrace. Allura smiled into his tunic and hummed softly. They stood quietly for some time before Lotor broke the hug. He looked down with his large hands cupped over her shoulders. She allowed her arms to dangle over his non-existent hips as she gazed back up into his amber eyes. They were conflicted and unsure, but she could see a sparkle buried deeply.

“Do you want to go with Blue and me?” She asked gently.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He would ride this emotional limbo for a little while longer. Taking his time wouldn’t kill him.

Chapter Text

Blue growled irately. The low rumbling shook the entire hanger. The lights flickered but the two occupants of the bay were completely unawares to everything except each other.

Lotor ran his hands down her slender waist, taking liberties that he had previously never dared to steal. Carnal desire pulled him further into the lustful habits that drowned caution. Allura had locked the door. No one would see. He was safe with his princess. They had still half a varga before the other paladins would launch out, expecting Blue to be with them. Waiting had led to awkward small talk followed once again by passion.

Their mouths entangled for another long moment, before the woman dropped from her tip toes. She could not supress the sheepish grin that lit her face. “You know,” she paused as if weighing whether her next words were actually worth saying right now. She pursed her lips and didn’t meet his eyes as she said, “You know I could get used to this.”

Lotor felt heat rise to his cheeks. On impulse, he blurted, “Make it part of your pre-flight check.” He instantly regretted the cheesy words, but they elicited a musical laugh from the princess. The beauty eclipsed his moment of embarrassment.

She closed his mouth with hers. Just in time, before he was able to say another idiotically smitten sentence.

For another long, wonderful moment. Lotor floated in the sensation of her supple lips against his. Her fingers brushed over his waist and found a resting place on his chest, stealing the breath from him.

He allowed his arms to wrap loosely around her hips. She swayed, and the motion made him burn with passion. His kiss intensified.

Her fingers weaved patterns over his chest, sliding easily over the armour plates and digging into the fabric that covered his shoulders. An animalistic growl emanated from deep within Lotor. All other thoughts were distant. It was just the two of them and Lotor had never felt so at ease… and so nervous. It was an enigmatic feeling.

He ran a hand through her silky hair. She was so beautiful. He wanted to tell her that. Lotor broke the pash for another breath. He physically willed himself to meet her eyes and whispered words he never thought he would have the audacity nor the occasion to utter. “You are beautiful, princess.”

For a brief, flitting moment a familiar feeling of failure and guilt gnawed at him. I don’t deserve this. He felt like a thief marring something precious with calloused filthy hands.

She cut off the disparaging line of thoughts by caressing his cheek. Her other hand gripped his bicep, unknowingly over a self-inflicted wound. The movement sent pain rush through him. He almost winced but so powerful was her touch that he barely noticed.

Lotor was trapped now, drowning in her azure depths. It was almost as if she could read his thoughts. As the point of contact continued, Lotor could have sworn he felt his Altean essence reverberating gently. The vulnerability was enticing and terrifying at once. He wished he could give into her open invitation, but training and the cold steel within his soul was unyielding.

Still, the princess stayed, conveying that foreign sensation Lotor had never had the pleasure of experiencing. It was more powerful than any alchemy Lotor had faced in his millennia.

A lump formed in his throat. Why him? Was this Fate’s strange method of offering him… redemption? Years of cynicism tainted the answer. You can’t be changed. You have a mission.

It can be our mission. – the entirely new concept spoke out as if from the princess herself.

His surprise mounted with fear following closely. He would not trust hope. It had led to the destruction of everything he had known. Lotor would not let it destroy her too. He lightly grazed her palm with his lips as if kissing goodbye to all the dreams these past few days had conjured.

Allura broke the eye contact and rested her head on his chest as her arms wrapped him in a lonely embrace. The dim hanger was suddenly so vast. Be brave, she told herself.  Her resolve gained strength with every word she whispered. “Lotor, I am not asking you to trust me.”

He remained silent. How she could read him so intimately, Lotor had no idea. His jaw tightened and the familiar insistence to retreat came back to him. Be brave, he told himself.

She continued, “I just want you to know…” She struggled to find the right words to comfort the prince. “You deserve peace... I want to help you with that.”

He took a breath. He had to fight in order for it to come out smoothly. The watershed was threatening once again. It wouldn’t break. Be strong, wretch.

A tear carved its way down her cheek. His strong hands laced behind her back. “You deserve… peace… No matter what,” she said.

The words cut deeply. You are wrong.  The words sounded hollow to him, standing here with her warmth enveloped around him. But he was too afraid to challenge them.

Instead, he broke the embrace after another second, feigning in his head that the touches were all for her despite the princess’ words. His stomach clenched as she rose onto her tiptoes and brushed a soft kiss on his cheek.

Allura brushed a stray lock away from her shimmering eyes and faked a smile. She couldn’t deny his coldness stung but she reminded herself that things took time.

Lotor forced his mind to shift gears. His fangs mirrored her faux smile. “You are a magnificent woman,” he whispered. He meant it in so many different ways. Look how far you have fallen.

She blushed and a genuine smile came to the corner of her eyes. “Thank you, Lotor.”

 

Chapter Text

Allura attempted to keep her mind off the previous conversations of the day. She felt she had made excellent strides in gaining the prince’s trust.

A novel thought came to her. How odd that now it was her who was striving to gain his trust. She would have chuckled if Lotor were not standing directly behind her. Just as the first time, albeit slightly more subdued, the half-galran prince was exuding a mixture of confidence, stoicism, and sheer wonder. Even with her back turned to him, she could feel his eyes watching her every move. Not in the calculated, predatory manner that Allura was accustomed to sensing.

No, he seemed to be admiring the grace at which the machinery maneuvered… or something akin to that. She mentally added another tick to the growing list of things she was learning to ‘love’ about him.

The princess almost sighed aloud. A prodding voice in her head waggled a finger at her.

Luckily, Shiro’s clipped tones came over the comms before she could grow too distracted.

“Pidge and I will examine sectors 5 through 8. Lance and Hunk take over sectors IG 12 and GI 21 on the poles….”

Allura could have sworn Shiro paused a breath longer. In fact, she thought she picked up a hint of something she did not hear from the man often: disdain.

“… Allura and Lotor, take the main compound.”

She kept her own reply polished. “Affirmative.”

Lotor spoke as soon as the comm clicked off. “He holds no qualms against showing his distrust, does he not?”

Allura licked her lips unsure of which side she stood on. It was probably safer to not say anything but a nagging feeling that she owed him a response plagued her. “I think he is worried about…” she blushed. “us.”

There was deeply engrained caution in his voice. Allura was reminded of Lotor’s past. “What do you mean?” It almost sounded like an accusation, but whether he was accusing himself or her, she was uncertain.

“I think he sees me opening up to you more and is being cautious,” she clarified.

Lotor was silent for a long time. She fought the urge to fill the void by saying more, turning her attention to bringing Blue into the planet’s atmosphere. 

For the second time this trip, she was surprised by his tone of voice. It was gentle. “Is that a good idea?”

Allura twisted in her seat to meet his golden irises. Emotions swam just under the surface. “I think so,” she said simply.

The slightest tightening of his throat. The most minute dilating of pupils…

That time, she saw authenticity.

Allura turned away to hide her smile. She focused her attention on landing. Her lion landed softly on the verdant surface. The planet was greener and seemed warmer than the previous globe they had explored. Outside, she could see a densely overgrown courtyard. It appeared to be an old landing platform, a large flat space.

A crackling voice broke over the silence. “This is Yurn. I have crew on the ground. Don’t disturb them and we won’t disturb you.” The pirate was obviously still bitter over his previous loss.

Allura was only grateful that he had the foresight to stop fighting when he knew he was beaten. She answered respectfully, “Thank you. We will try to be as quick as possible.”

She didn’t expect an answer and she didn’t get one.

“Everyone is in a good mood today,” Lotor commented dryly.

“I think you may be onto something,” Allura said. The change of pace was refreshing. She didn’t realise how much she had been looking forward to this. He made it better as she moved to stand and Lotor offered her a hand.

A smile touched the corner of her mouth and she took it politely.

“Where should we begin?” She asked.

Lotor led her outside. He let go of her hand to block out the sun and survey the landscape. Yurn had mentioned his crew being close by but the area looked untouched. An oval building stood at the southern end of the long landing strip where ‘Blue’ had landed. “Going inside should enlighten us.”

She let him take the lead as the two of them walked over the crumbling foundation. Interestingly, there were no ships on the grounds nor any signs of recent activity. The foliage was mainly brush and heavily vined, short trees. From the ground, the main compound was barely visible through greenery.

“I wonder where Yurn’s crew is,” Allura mused. She internally cringed. For whatever reason, a whisper felt more appropriate.

“It certainly seems this area is abandoned.” Lotor dipped under a low hanging branch draped in thick vines. 

She admired his broad shoulders as she followed him and he continued, “I would not put it past the pirate to only mention such worries as deterrent. How strange they do not inhabit the other world.”

“This one was the most … complete,” Allura offered. The words left a bitter taste on her tongue.

Lotor tilted his head in acknowledgement. It brought to mind the unfortunate circumstances that brought them here in the first place. Stop. Detach. She can’t know. She can’t see.

She wasn’t going to allow that, and it frustrated him. “Lotor, tell me the truth.” She took a breath. “What do you know of Galran activity concerning Alteans?”

A mocking snicker echoed through his mind. It stabbed with almost real pain. Truth in the same sentence as your name? Shut up. He didn’t look at her. It was all a lie. He had never spoken untruth to her. Anxiety mounted. He violently forced the thoughts away. Lock them away. Shut them out. They don’t exist. Not now or ever.

“Allura, I don’t know everything my father undertook during the past. I was exiled.” His voice took on a gentler tone. “I did not realise he had secret installations like this. However, it has been many thousands of years.”

“What do you know, though?” She was persistent.

“Not enough,” he spoke as close to true as he could. “Its obvious that he took Alteans captive to use their knowledge.” He sighed. A pang of guilt touched him. Don’t. “I am sorry I don’t know more. I would give anything to know more of what he did, trust that Allura.”

Whether or not she believed him, he could not tell. She didn’t say anything again until they had climbed up the mossy stairs that led to the large square doors that led into the squat structure.

As expected, the interior was run down. Nature had taken civilisation captive after centuries of neglect. Long, dark hallways came off the main, circular chamber like spokes on a wheel. The large area would have been bustling in its prime time. Numerus consoles sat decrepit and eaten away by dangerous looking scarlet fungi. Thick vines intermingled with almost identical cords snaking along the floor. Sagging scaffolds hung precariously from the ceiling and against the furthest back wall a towering generator still hummed. Indeed, it was the only source of light in the dim arena basking everything in a now sickly green hue.

“This looks like a communications center,” Allura said quietly.  

Lotor nodded sagely. He took several footsteps into the massive space. The Galran machinery was clearly outdated, but the generator was what caught his attention. He moved carefully over the uneven ground to the large cylinder. He was aware of the princess hanging back, carefully inspecting another corner of the room. A stray thought entered his mind as he neared the generator.

A sensation tickled his ears like a whisper on the wind, making the back of his throat tingle. Something eerily familiar rose in the back of his mind. Despite himself, Lotor reached a hand outward. That feeling that occasionally followed Allura’s presence came back to him. It was a soft glow just on the edge of perception. Where warmth should have been, Lotor felt cold. It was a sensation that was keenly recognisable. He was unaware of shutting his eyes.

 His gloved hand only brushed the surface. Bitter ice shot through the contact and pierced his chest, filling it like cold water. The blossom of energy he sensed shifted shape.

The prince ground his teeth determined not to allow this chance to connect with the Altean magic slip away again. His face contorted as another more sinister ember ignited between him and the essence. He fought like one drowning in maddened, black water; lost in a midnight sea. Lotor continued to grasp, fighting, scraping, and clawing towards the quickly diminishing flash of pure quintessence he felt. It was a dim sunset across the quickly rising gulf separating him from that which he yearned to touch.

On the outside, he could hear a deep growl. Needless distraction.

Suddenly, powerfully, he was thrown into another realm. Or perhaps it was the depths of his mind being visibly conjured by such proximity to quintessence. He opened his eyes. Shadow and fog roiled around him. He immediately assumed a vision. A feat he had never before accomplished. A rushing howl made his head swim and his hearing ring. The floor immediately felt unsteady. A sickening, hollow, void burned through his chest.

Silver fangs snarled, contorting in terror and rage. Pain mounted. It was both physical and mind-numbingly emotional: another plane of existence he never knew existed full of memories both his and other poor souls. They cloyed him, pulling, screaming for mercy and laughing insanely to see another victim. Too close.

His golden irises snapped down to take in the horror. Deepest black streaked with sharp purple relief bled from a hole in his sternum. No. The word shook on his tongue though it only rung through his sub-consciousness. No. No. No! His claws clamped over his breast attempting to hold in the darkness.

Monster. How does it feel? To have your very essence siphoned from your soul!? She will sense your guilt. You are tainted. You will never touch the light. We shall always fight back. You are not Galra. You are not Altean.

He didn’t recognise the voice change from that of an ancient Altean to his own. Filth. A damnation to the world.

His head spun. His breath came ragged, burning in his chest. His heart thudded deeply, frantically in his ears. You cannot erase us.

Finally, he broke contact. Lotor was physically thrown aback as the energy dissipated violently. A gentle thrumming filled the chamber. The green hue of the light was now a distinct lavender. He felt drained, exhausted.

Lotor pushed himself upright, being cautious not to touch the cylinder again. The adrenaline spiked and anxiety made it hard not to shake. He whipped his head around to scan the arena. He half expected to see the princess standing there looking disgusted and horrified.

No, she was gone. The void he had witnessed in the vision was abruptly feeling all too real.

“Allura.” Please. Heavens please. She didn’t see that. She couldn’t have seen that. Please.

Chapter Text

Lotor rushed through another tunnel. This was the last one. His hands shook and for the first time in centuries, he stood on the brink of delirium. There was no sign of her. He could sense something was wrong. The voice was gone, replaced with a painful regret. Or perhaps closer to feeling like he would very soon need to do something he would regret.

If this was love, he did not want it. He had no recollection of holding someone’s thoughts so dear the way he held hers. An irrational, completely unreasonable, inclination to care about them just because they were hers.

“Allura!” He called through another dark hallway.

A spark of inspiration hit him, and he turned on his heel, sprinting back the way he came. The chamber was still thrumming with his unique mixture of quintessence. The haunting wind was no longer audible.  Good.

Lotor passed back the way they came. Vaulting over thick roots and pushing through brush. The sky was quickly darkening, and the air smelled thick with moisture. A cool breeze cut through his sweaty flightsuit. A heavy presence was settling over Lotor’s shoulders and he quickened his pace.

The prince skidded to a halt when her lion came into view between a break in the foliage. “Blue!” He ran the rest of the way before skidding to a halt in front of the massive beast. Rain began to sprinkle over the earth.

He did not dare attempt to enter the lion. “Where is she?” At least she had not left him here. A nauseating feeling was worming its way into his stomach. “Where did she go? Please,” he paused knowing the lion would see through any lie he told it. “I need to speak with her. I need to know she is alright.”

Silence.

Frustration mounted inside of him. “Are you not supposed to protect your paladin?” He snarled. “Well?!” He clenched his fists. “Fine.” Lotor turned vehemently. “I will find her on my own… When I manufacture my own ship, I will remember your stubbornness,” he added under his breath.

The vow was followed instantly by an uncharacteristic scream of surprise as Lotor was picked up in the robeast’s metal jaws.

XxX

Allura strained against the mental onrush of dark energy. Something had happened and she was still unsure where exactly she was.

The last thing she remembered before she found herself in this pseudo-reality, Lotor was inspecting the large generator near the back of the communications center. She had been walking near one of the terminals. A sudden flicker of gold light had startled her then blackness had overcome her sight.

Now, she stood in a parody world that resembled the planet she and Lotor had previously explored. Oversized wintering trees towered over her. A gawdy blue sky was now being quickly overtaken by sodden grey clouds in disturbing shapes. She imagined this was how the world would look if she ever tried hardcore drugs… A wave of fluorescent purple lightning bolts rained from the bastioning storm.

Allura gracefully pirouetted and rolled from one of the forked tongues before deftly evading another with a lunge forward. She somersaulted to her feet. A chorus of whimpering howls was rising on the fast-moving breeze. “Well that is not good,” she stated dryly.

The princess ran a hand through her pale locks, taking the moment of respite to think. She looked to each direction in turn before deciding to head away from the storm and skirting to the right of the howling. She truly hoped Lotor was in this with her… somewhere…

XxX

A series of deep grunts echoed up from the aft section of Blue. They were followed by several clatters and a Galran curse.

Lotor gripped the manifold as Blue took another wild turn. He grit his teeth together as a toolkit that had been knocked loose smashed into his shoulder. “I truly hope you don’t fly this way with the princess,” Lotor called mockingly.

He forced himself to his feet and took a couple quick steps closer to the cockpit before the lion threw him into the ceiling. His claws found a grate and Lotor kept himself from losing ground at the expense of his gloves.

He almost thought he heard an irritated growl.

“I won’t scratch your interior if you…”

Thud.

“Won’t…”

Crash.

“Fly like a maniac!!!” Lotor snapped. His white mane tangled as the lion went into another wild manoeuvre. “Really!”

There was another moment of respite which Lotor took quick advantage off, launching himself off the bulkhead and gripping the pilot’s seat for dear life. He pulled himself against inertia and found himself in the seat just before the lion roared loudly and threw him against the hastily placed restraints.

Lotor hissed as his thumb caught under the fabric but waited till the beast had taken another pause before righting himself. “I just want to help!” He angrily blew a stray lock out of his eyes before adding disdainfully, “Last time I actually try.”

Blue aggressively threw the prince against the restraints, knocking the breath from the half breed. Lotor seethed. “My apologies.” He wiped a line of blood from his mouth.

She started to spin and Lotor sank his claws into the armrests when the restraints popped out of the sockets. “I mean it,” he ground. Outside, the surface was fast approaching.

She growled. He felt his stomach go to his head and his heart hit his feet. Inertia slammed him into the ceiling again. He found purchase wrapping his long arms around a console. She continued her acrobatics.

He growled with matched ferocity, “Stop.”

She actually listened. However, he couldn’t convince his ego that it was his doing entirely, and it cut him. “You are not making this easier,” he accused half-heartedly after several breaths.

A question was raised.

Lotor’s eyebrows knit together. “I want to help.” Thinking was becoming more difficult. It could have been the shaking he had taken or… “Blue, I think I care deeply for her.”

The lion roared and flipped into a vertical ascent towards the sky. He landed squarely in the pilot’s seat with a jarring smack. He felt her gearing for another tremendous wave of movement. “Yes! All right. Fine! I love her!”

Thud.

“Isn’t that enough?!”

Chapter Text

“What’s going on with the Blue lion?!” Coran’s confused voice broke over the Paladin’s comms simultaneously. “Allura?” He hailed her lion to only get static followed by a violent crash then static once again. “Is anyone able to contact the princess?”

Shiro’s concerned voice crackled to life. “Negative. Where is –”

The man was cut off by Yurn’s furious tones. “Hey! I thought we had an agreement! What’s the meaning of this?”

Coran pushed Shiro to the background for a moment placating the pirate, “Um, we are having a technical problem. Not to worry…”

“Lotor isn’t responding either,” Lance added apprehensively.

Yurn continued irately. “I want you guys off my planet, dammit!”

Coran remained at a loss, ignoring the captain’s tirade for the moment. Diplomacy was never his strong point…

“We need to get a visual on Blue,” Shiro commanded.

Coran turned his eyes to tracking the rogue lion.

Shiro patched himself into the main hailing channel. “Yurn, we will handle this.”

“She’s leaving the planet?” Coran asked more to himself in incredulity. He attempted to contact the princess once more.

Hunk’s uncertain voice broke into the chaotic conversation. “Do we abort our explorations?”

“Yes!” Yurn growled. “The woman is the only one with any sense! Get out!”

“Hey!” Pidge called sharply.

Coran wrinkled his nose at the pirate’s insolence regarding his princess.

“Enough of this!” Shiro’s baritone held an uncharacteristic sharpness that cut though the disorder like a knife. “Yurn, get out of our channel. We will leave now. Paladin’s get back to your lions we need to catch Allura in the Blue lion. Call off the mission and someone get a visual on that lion.”

The orders brought the situation into relief, kicking each member, even the unwilling pirate captain, into focus.

Coran turned his attention back to the monitors. The blue blip on the solar map was moving fast through the atmosphere now on a trajectory leading towards one of the earliest renditions of the experiment. It was a dark terrestrial planet with shifting geo-plates so unstable, the Altean man could see the surface slowly shifting with the naked eye. “She is heading towards Planet 1.”

“That is Euro 1,” Yurn angrily corrected.

“Get off the channel!” Shiro snapped. He waited until he heard the pirate grumble followed by a snap of static before continuing, “Do we know for sure Allura is in her lion?”

Coran scanned for the princess’ transponder. A blank screen began to flash amidst the blue lettering. “I am unable to locate her,” he replied tersely.

“We need to find her and Lotor. Lance, Red is the fastest lion, get on her tail and try to attain control. Hunk, I’m sending Pidge and you off planet. Abort your mission and figure out why her transponder is not registering. I will search the surface for the two of them until I join you.”

The affirmatives rolled in one by one as the Blue lion went into another series of erratic behaviours, this time going into a sharp vertical incline.

XxX

Pidge took off full tilt to get to her lion, leaving Shiro alone in the ramshackle building they had been searching. He only stood for moment, gathering his thoughts. Anger and fear were eating at him. This was the second time.

He broke into a jog to his lion. It was the second time the princess had found herself in mysterious peril around the half blood prince. His jaw tightened at the thought. “You’re going to get yourself killed, princess,” he whispered through grit teeth.

As if reading his very thoughts Pidge spoke into his comm. “Lotor better not be behind this.”

“If he is…” Shiro trailed off. He had to tell himself to take a breath. This temper was growing out of control. He blamed the stress of past events… Still, he didn’t remember being so easily riled. He shook the thoughts away from his mind, needing no distractions. He continued with a clearer tone, “If he is, we will find out soon.”

XxX

Lotor’s grip tightened on the back of the seat. He was grateful no one else was present to witness the shaken fear plastered onto his face. The lion’s power was enough to put the fear of God into anyone sane.

A powerful vibration shook the hull violently as the lion entered the dense atmosphere of the proto-planet. Blue took on a more precise trajectory and Lotor was actually able to cautiously lessen his grip. His boot hit the floor softly and he stood warily as Blue took an easy approach to the ashen surface. Lotor did not dare take the pilots seat again, though an easy feeling was drifting on the edge of his subconsciousness. It was a difficult thing for him to grasp but Lotor could akin the sensation to standing by a calm stream after witnessing the same stream swollen and violent from a storm’s rains.

Still, he would not take the princess’ seat.

Blue smoothly weaved over the surface before spiralling downward. The jagged, volcanic surface approached quickly and Lotor couldn’t fight the anxiety light in the pit of his stomach.

His fears were reproved when she dipped into a dark canyon which he had not noticed. He squinted out the viewport looking for any signs of previous life. “Where is she?”

“How did she get here?” A dozen other questions ran through his mind.

Blue gave no obvious answers.

He remained silent as the lion landed carefully on a ledge along the canyon. The sky was roiling and black. He caught glimpse of the stars through a sliver in the crags. His mouth twisted into a frown. “Where is she? This planet is barren.”

She responded with a click from the airlock opening. The sulfuric atmosphere filled the cabin and Lotor immediately donned his helmet. As he cautiously stepped onto the hard, ashen surface, a rumble sounded from far away and the lightest of tremors travelled up his boot. He gave the lion one last look before moving towards the precipice. Just don’t abandon me.

His eyes tracked down hundreds of meters to the bottom. A churning river of molten lava burned intensely. This makes no sense. The lion is deceiving you.

He burned the image of the princess into his mind. Memories threatened to drown the thought of her.

 

Lotor stood before the door leading to the bridge of his father’s flagship. Dayak slowly circled the young prince as per her usual custom. “Straighten up. Get rid of that smile.”

The boy did as best as he could. Still, his face seemed the more difficult to tame. Even the attempt was humorous. His grin cracked wider despite himself.

“Lotor, the Emperor will not appreciate mirth in his presence,” she spoke matter-of-factly. Her left eyebrow rose in suspicion. “What has gotten into you?”

Lotor looked up at her, meeting her eyes and feeling bold. This lightness in his chest made his toes dance. He contained it only barely for the sake of the switch. “One of the superior officers told me a secret,” he said borderline excitedly.

Dayak frowned. “Who?” The question was sinister.

An inkling of fear wormed its way into his stomach. Uncertainty eclipsed the lightness. “Commander Koyar,” Lotor answered warily.

There was a dark, terrifying glint in the Galra’s eyes. “What did he tell you?”

Lotor was suddenly, explicably alert. He knew a lie would be found out. He began very carefully. “He told me – “

The young prince startled when he was interrupted with a swat to the shoulder. Lotor barely controlled the flinch. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you forgo me and tell your father what Commander Koyar told you?”

She motioned to the door. “I am sure he would be very interested in hearing your secret. Go on, you will be fine.”

He didn’t believe the lie.

 

Lotor ground his teeth at the memory. He had taken two weeks to recover from the beating he had received. Commander Koyar had been beheaded in front of his eyes before the Emperor lost control.

“No, the lions are pure,” he didn’t realise that he had spoken aloud until Blue grumbled behind him. He didn’t have to look at her to feel the magnificent presence behind him. He jumped.

 

Chapter Text

Shiro left his lion at a run. There was an obvious clearing where the blue lion had set down. Wind blown trees and swirls of dust marked the place. He past the circle quickly not bothering to waste any time on looking for clues there. He would check on his way back if his hunt in the compound was unsuccessful.

His boots thudded over the overgrown landscape determinedly. His puzzlement at the whole situation had been pushed far to the back of his mind. Now, it crept up to the forefront of his mind. If Lotor had hurt the princess wouldn’t the lion destroy him? Perhaps Lotor had turned on Allura and she had successfully defeated him? He doubted that. The princess was strong but in other ways. She held a solid foundation in the ways of a warrior but Lotor had struck down Emperor Zarkon. He was a powerful foe not to be taken on one’s own.

Perhaps she fled and that was the explanation of Blue’s erratic escape from the atmosphere?

He shook himself back to the present, projecting a question to the others in the air. “Any progress, team?”

“I am gaining on her, but she is maxing out. Any idea what is going on here?” Lance said through grit teeth.

Hunk added, “Pidge and I are still unable to pinpoint her location. It’s like she doesn’t exist. Shiro, we aren’t picking up any readings of life in the compound either.” The last of the young man’s words were shaken.

 

Shiro’s face hardened. “Keep trying,” he ordered before clicking off. He launched himself up the staircase leading into the large grey building. Anger was simmering to a constant build. Focus. Patience. It was growing increasingly difficult to follow the advice. It was so much easier to be angry, to fall into rage.

“No,” he spat to himself. This temper was getting harder to control. It was strange and alarming. He blamed it on the stress for the moment and pushed the heavy glass doors open.

The large space, heavily overgrown, ancient, and filled with an eerie purple glow held a foreboding aura.  His steps slowed as he inspected the cavernous room. “Allura!” He called.

He didn’t expect a response, but he called again. “Allura! Lotor!”

The man moved around the circumference of the chamber, which appeared to be a communications center. His grey eyes scanned the various nooks amongst aisles. There was no sign of a struggle. Shiro passed into one of the long, wide hallways coming off the main room. He stumbled quickly through it just to move through another one and another one.

Each one was empty. He was jogging though the last one when he saw her.

Time slowed for a handful of breaths. Her laying there in a fallen heap in her armour, a blank expression set over her face, the sight made him physically ill. He snapped out of the moment and ran the rest of the way over grey rubble.

“Allura!” The name was said with so much conflicting emotion. Fear, relief, anger… all these things flashed through his mind amidst his heart pounding in his chest. There was no mark on her body, but she was pale and unresponsive. Shiro quickly gathered her slim frame into his arms and stood.

“I found the princess, but she is unconscious. No sign of Lotor,” he relayed.

There was a short pause before Coran broke the silence. “The blue lion is entering the atmosphere of Euro 1. I suggest you bring the princess on board and we will rendezvous with Lance on the planet.”

Shiro began a fast pace back towards his lion. “Copy that.”  Fire was igniting in his soul. Images of what could have happened played through his mind. Lotor would have much to explain when they found him. He was foolish to let the princess get so close to the half breed. He should not have placed so much trust in him so quickly. Not with the princess at stake. He should not have taken so many risks. This had simply been one to many.

Guilt gnawed at him enough to make his stomach twist. What was wrong with him? “I’m sorry, Allura.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lotor hit his jet pack several hundred meters above the roaring pool of brilliant material that bubbled from the torn surface beneath him. The sudden loss of momentum made his stomach lurch, but he kept his eyes on the cliff face moving past him.

He was relying more on instinct than anything else. He could fantasise that this was some granule of Altean mysticism finally manifesting in himself. Part of him believed it could be accomplished while the other was dubious.

Still, something was guiding him like an invisible hand. Whether the compass was from within himself or being given by another power, Lotor was uncertain. At the moment, it didn’t matter.

His gaze caught a sliver of even darkness fast approaching. He gave another shot of fuel to his pack and the harsh spit of the flame joined the raucous din echoing through the canyon. Carefully he angled towards the outcropping.

He landed firmly with a roll on smooth black stone. It was an even surface set into the face of the cliff. The rectangular space was easily four meters long and nearly that size deep. Lotor scanned the bare rock for any clue. The instinct had told him to come here, but now that he was here the feeling was frustratingly missing.

He reached out with his consciousness, longing to tap into the strain he knew flowed through his veins. He only needed a spark to draw out the flame, a catalyst to light his instinct again. He closed his eyes. The smell of sulphur was horribly distracting. It permeated even through his helmet’s filters. Focus.

Lotor was unable to do so, when a powerful shaking nearly knocked him off his feet. He caught his balance by gripping the rough stone wall. His eyes whipped upwards just in time to see a red streak pass over the crag. Another shake reverberated through the rock.

Several things passed through his mind at once. Why were the paladins firing on their own lion? Were they protecting Blue? Will Blue defend herself? Or him? Will she leave? A final note of urgency was the last thing to jolt him into movement.

Don’t get caught up in meaningless circles, whelp. Concentrate or you’ll never save your princess.

A thought that had not occurred to him earlier suddenly blossomed, throwing his line of thinking into a tangle. What if she doesn’t need saving?

If that were so… Why would Blue had taken him here? You’ve become too close to her. Everyone knows. They are protecting her.

A wave of anxiety rushed into his mind. His brows furrowed and he looked above him again. Why was doing the right thing so hard? The thundering firing of the lions was continuous. Another flash dipped across the gap, skimming dangerously close to the surface of the planet. The deep purple gash it tore across the sky labelled it as the Black lion.

Lotor suddenly felt a stab of ire. He growled. Focus. His gaze swept the area again. With his senses he reached out. The same way he had coached Allura earlier, he guided himself. He closed his eyes attempting to touch at least one iota of the layer of quintessence in this place.

Then he felt it. It was that familiar echo of a touch that he got whenever he was around the princess. A ghosting hand beckoned him forward. He shuffled along the path now glowing blue in front of him like a string of wisps in his mind’s eyes.

Time slowed. All the sounds outside ebbed to the distant rumble of a thunderstorm. He nearly lost his balance, almost shattering the trance. The scent of fresh rain and wet soil permeated his nostrils. He realised he was suddenly not wearing his helmet. Lotor opened his eyes.

He was in a forest surrounded by tall, evergreen trees. A chill wind was whipping through the boughs, making them whistle ferociously. A looming storm threatened over a distant mountain range. Violet lightning bolts shot from the black clouds like seizing fingers, raking the land for a soul to snatch.

He risked a cry. “Allura!” This must be some netherworld. He thought.

A quivering blue flame caught his gaze out of the corner of his eye. When he tuned to it, the wisp promptly vanished only to reignite deeper into the woods. Hesitantly, he took a step forward on the uneven, rocky ground. Better not walk off the ledge in real life, his other half intoned impudently.

He pushed the annoyance aside for the time being and took another step forward after the wisp and the flame bobbed backwards, prompting him to follow.

For an instant, Lotor’s better sense told him to stop, to evaluate the situation instead of blindly following an entity in a foreign realm. Like a languid shadow passing over a barren desert, an image of the princess passed into his mind’s eye. “Allura,” the name echoed off his lips in a whisper. It hardened his resolve and gave him purpose.

He moved forward with more confidence and his advance came easily. A slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he moved to follow the wisp.

XxX

Allura pirouetted into a long-legged kick that sent the snarling beast flying backwards.  She wished she had her bayard with her. That would make this so much easier.

The Altean princess had been running for what felt like forever. Weariness was quickly seeping into her muscles.  Wave after endless wave of lycanthropic monsters howled with the wind. She still had no idea where the beasts were coming from. Many of them looked to be the same visage: a crooked, fanged grin framed with an erratic black mane and silver whiskers. Deeply set crimson eyes, and possibly what Allura found the most disturbing, golden Altean marks that streaked with bleeding ebony lines.

The fights were growing more horrible physically, but spiritually she could feel the darkness sapping her energy. The princess bent over to catch her breath before facing the mountain range now looming over the forest. That was her destination. As she neared, a powerful beacon of purity called to her. It reminded her of home. The essence of Altea was everywhere in this forsaken place.

In the forest, it was twisted and broken; a tormented, sick, yearning copy. Something that had once been pure and light, now corrupted and mutilated beyond any hope of redemption. There was great sorrow pooling under the mangled trees she ran through. It was as if the hollow parodies of life drew their only strength now from the slowly fading energy of the torn ghosts.

It was beyond difficult to dwell upon and Allura shut herself off from the dark power. Instead, she fixed her eyes on the towering range that promised another world on the other side. She had no where else to go. The clustering thunderstorm behind her was riding fast. The violet lightening was already too close, so when another pack of vicious hosts erupted from the forest, she did not slow her feet.

Chapter Text

Lotor grappled with the growling monster before throwing the beast over the cliff. The churning storm now barely visible to his right was moving quickly. He dared let out another call for the princess. “Allura!”

He groaned. The wisps had disappeared after he had entered the mountain pass. They had abandoned him at a fork in the road.

His groan turned into a snarl as his fists balled at the memory. Fool. They led you here to die.

If I die at least I will die with her. He retorted.

You are blind. These beasts are Altean. They are tormented souls akin to the ones of your making.

Lotor shook his head violently. He refused to believe it. This place was some parallel realm or place of power where one’s mind created all demons met.

Then you should be terrified.

A trembled rocked his body and Lotor forced his mind to focus, warding off the panic that threatened on the edge of conscious control.

He opened his mouth to answer himself out loud when a distant whisper tickled his ear.

“Did you hear that?” The prince asked rhetorically before cursing when it to came to him again. 

It travelled over the dead hills like words spoken in a crowd, directed to him but falling on deaf ears. A familiar rage was washing over him. His stumbling feet slowed as a heavy presence crept steadily over him, bathing him in ice.

Part of him wavered, wishing to turn back and preserve himself. He was no where close to being ready for this. He held no true power over his Altean side… not yet. All these doubts rush through his mind like tumbling rocks before the whisper manifested into a shrill command. 

“Altean! Half blood!”

The coarse voice rang through the mountains like iron scraped over rock. It berated his ears and turned his stomach inside out. Lotor dropped to his knees as the sheer voice continued, ripping into him with every painful syllable. Tingling peppered through his muscles and the pain shooting between his ears was almost undefinable. 

It said, “Tool, a dabbler you may be, but you will release me.”

The words held a distinct accent. Panic was nearing Lotor’s threshold. Amidst a ragged breath, Lotor formed a reply. “Lead me to the princess.” It was a feeble attempt but his arrogance held little boundaries and it was worth a shot. 

A mental tug of war set off. A gust of damp wind tore through the canyon. He was familiar with battle of word, but this took it to an entirely different level. He strained to keep his sanity intact for the moment, to focus on the force of wills. 

It answered him. “I will not.” Every vowel reverberated with ethereal energy. Each consonant carried immense power. It was something Lotor doubted he could ever attain. His resolved withered momentarily with the thoughts. 

Lotor’s inner dialogue followed strongly. Fool! You are a weak prince. I will show you why we have survived so long… survived father!!!

The ferocity with which the vision overtook Lotor quaked even his bones.


 

 

              “You are a black spot in my lifetime. A mark of utter failure, Lotor.” The Emperor’s meaty hand constricted further over his son’s windpipe.

The prince pried at the massive hands with bleeding fingers. Darkness was creeping at the edges of his vision. He struggled with a last attempt at getting free of his father’s grasp. His sense of self-preservation was enough to drown out the terror for now. He knew this was coming. It had hedged on the outskirts of his mind for years:

His father would kill him. Right here. Right now. That would be accomplished.

There was a part of him that was reserved to the fate that blazed in Zarkon’s furious eyes.

“I should kill you as an example,” Zarkon continued venomously.

Lotor’s lungs burned for oxygen. He wanted to die. He wished he held the courage and the chance to scream. To yell and beckon him to do it, to finally make good on the empty promises.

But his father had always been a liar.

The Emperor threw him across the massive court.

Air sucked into Lotor’s chest with piercing fire as he landed in a twisted heap. He had not even caught a fraction of his breath when an armoured boot kicked him onto his back. Lotor once again met the galra’s eyes.

It was in that moment Lotor felt finally crushed. He had never experienced such betrayal. He had never felt so torn, so hated, so hurt. Tears came and Lotor struggled to grip the pieces of himself suddenly bursting from the dam.

“You are weak!”

Hell unloosed.

 

The half-blood prince erupted from the vision with a violent roar. The world suddenly seemed inexplicably silent. The rushing wind from the storm halted its course. For a fraction of a second, Lotor felt nothing but stark relief being released from the mental prison of his memories. But as reality flooded back to the prince, Lotor experienced the onrush of emotions return to him.

Rage and fear roared in an instant flame, manifesting itself in a barrage of mental energy. A feral instinct overtook Lotor’s spirit and the rabid drive for bloodshed overcame him.

The surrounding canyon shapeshifted in a quick flash. He saw a twisted labyrinth of violet strands of quintessence snaking over the rocky ground. They converged across the pass where a black figure stood as a silhouette, poised to kill with flickering blade in hand.

The second of insight vanished an instant later. He had a target now, however. He launched himself over the uneven earth towards the invisible foe, bringing with him all the dredged-up pain from his earlier recollection. It coursed through him and he tapped into the essence of alchemy that dwelt deeply set in his soul.

He was awarded with another glimpse of the shadowy figure leaping upwards to meet Lotor’s offence.

The shadow flickered in and out of physical existence as the two danced lethally with fist and sword.

It was unlike anything the prince had ever endured. His body was physically taxed with every massive clash but the cyclone of energy swirling inside of him was the most overwhelming. It shone through his body and caused his Altean marks to burn with fervent brilliance. It carried him on the powerful tide towards victory. It moved with such immensity, that a hint of fear crept at the back of his subconscious. To hold so much power…

The voice broke into his focus, “I will consume you as I have your brethren.”

Lotor ignored the words and landed a wide arced kick to his opponents’ theoretical midsection. He actually felt an impact. “Where is she?” he snarled as the shade stumbled back.

He only had one objective; one reason he had come here. Sanity was slowly returning to him and he thought of Allura. It was a mistake. 

“Release me!” An onslaught of raw energy erupted from the palms of Lotor’s opponent.

The prince rolled, managing to get away despite his previous distraction. Weak!

“Where is she?” Lotor repeated.

This time the shadow drew up to its full stature and a pair of blazing crimson eyes ignited. Lotor did not need to tap into his Altean essence this time to witness the manifestation. His mouth dried and his heart rate reached another level.

“I will consume her!”

The wraith disappeared with a thunderclap.

“No!” Lotor lunged where it had been last. His hands caught empty air. “No!” Lotor cried again. “Allura! Princess!” Yearning flooded his heart. Vehement ire mounted once more.

He beat his chest one time in anger before letting out another growl. “Allura!” I won't leave.

Chapter Text

Hunk’s anxious voice broke over the tense comm silence. “Shiro, what do we do? We can’t fire down there without risking hitting Blue.”

Pidge added, “Why isn’t she moving?”

Lance sounded exasperated. “Are we even sure Lotor is down there?”

The debate floated to the back of Shiro’s mind as his lion went into another precalculated course across the roiling surface. His thoughts were sifting and filing. He couldn’t piece it together. What was happening? Nothing was making sense and an uncharacteristic anger was rising steadily at the back of his consciousness. There was something they were not taking into account.

He was starting to have a feeling that all this involved some sort of magic. The buzz of paranoia flickered again. Lotor had already shown a deep interest in dabbling with alchemy. It was the main reason Shiro deduced the half galran prince sidled so readily to the princess.

His mouth twisted into a grimace. “If Lotor took control of the blue lion we need to capture him. He may be using some dark magic like Haggar.”

“Are we making a landing?” Lance asked, sounding disturbed yet determined.

“How can that happen?” Pidge asked, still dubious. She amended her words. “I mean, the lions are sentient beings…”

“I don’t know, but with Lotor we need to take everything into account,” Shiro replied gently. “We can try to force Blue out of the canyon. It’s doubtful that if he has any kind of control over the lion that connection will be enough to override her defences.”

Hunk squirmed in his chair. This entire ordeal was just too much.

Chapter Text

 

“Show yourself!” Lotor demanded into the fog that curled in heavy sheets over the rocky terrain. He steeled himself for another attack. The prince slowed himself into a careful jog. With a swallow, he stepped in the only direction he could go: forward.

His rising fear for Allura was now being pushed back with a sense of dread for himself. What have I done?

He asked the question another time before a wave of anxiety came over him, heightening his senses. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. He readied himself for another attack from the being he was chasing.

As expected, it came with ferocity. The wind kicked up suddenly and a blast of energy hit him in the chest like a lightning bolt.

The shadowy creature danced in and out of physical sight amidst the heavy air. The tantalising drove Lotor into another violent rage. He hated being manipulated and with each manifestation, he couldn’t help but think that was exactly what the creature was doing.

With a tentative focus, Lotor tapped back into his anger. It was a foreign slippery concept to imagine, much less to put into use. However, need drove him to do what he previously only imagined. He took the bolt and sloppily threw the mass of quintessence back to sender.

The glowing ball of light was easily dismissed into the wall of the ravine, causing a massive shudder to run down the slope.

“You are a fast learner. Submit to me, and I will cause you to do amazing feats,” the spectre said before vanishing once again.

Still, Lotor did not understand the plot his opponent followed. He spat back blindly, “I submit to no one.”

“You will to me!” The power in the voice surmounted the roaring wind.

A flash erupted over the ground and Lotor was cast backwards. The prince landed hard and rolled several meters before he found his balance and he came back on his feet. Lotor’s instincts told him to sidestep milliseconds before another wave of energy disintegrated the rocks where Lotor had previously stood.

The moment of respite was not enough, however. His attacker was once again on the offensive and Lotor was forced to pivot and roll to remain alive.

Exhaustion quickly approached as Lotor hit the ground another time, summersaulting to the edge of a small dell. He briefly thought about taking refuge in the depression.

He was unable to make good his escape when a crippling weight stole the breath from his lungs. Gravity came crashing down on his limbs and the prince was inexplicably immobilised.

The fiend appeared in front of him. It took one long languid stride towards him before reaching a slender hand outward.

Lotor fell engrossed in its deep crimson stare. Time slowed and the world took on a grey hue. The wind stopped.

Even with his mortal self pinned, Lotor felt his soul lift into another realm. It was terrifying and tempting all at once.

The whisper came like the shudder of thunder from a distant storm. “Surrender to me.”

No.

The voice in Lotor’s head returned in brazen rebellion. The moment of transfiguration snapped to a close. The weight of worlds slammed over Lotor’s aching muscles. The spectre’s anger was palpable as heat coursing over the half-galran like running water.

He desperately tried to find the composure to fight back. The realisation that he had in fact taken on too much dawned on him as his body felt like it was being torn apart. The spectre’s essence ghosted metaphorical hands over his entire form, violating him, searching him, groping through his spirit to steal his strength.

In the moment of connexion, Lotor saw an insight into the being’s plans.

He saw a flash of Altea, clung onto possessively. He saw a gnarled, twisted hand clenched in a fist. A crumpled old man breathing raggedly and begging for mercy. He felt a mutual understanding. A prisoner sat alone in a cage.

Lotor let out a mournful groan. It can’t end like this. He wondered how they would find his body. If they ever would.

It wont end like this. Fight… I am!

He moaned again as the life energy was sucked out of him. Terror was on the brink of consuming him. He helplessly let go, unable to stop the rape of his inner most self.

Then there was nothing.

Like glass shattering in a peaceful silence, the pain stopped. Everything stopped.

He opened his eyes, unsure of when he had closed them.

A blinding flash of cerulean light lit up the rocky slope. He shielded his eyes from the intensity as another wave of heat cast stark shadows on the surroundings.

Her familiar essence filled the void where fear had once been. Allura.

Lotor watched mesmerised as she pirouetted from the shadow’s violet attack. Her hands gracefully tilted a sapphire staff, weaving a basket of light around her that sent the failed attempt reaching for the stars erratically.

The shadow vanished from his sight, but the princess continued fighting unhindered.

Allura could see the wraith as waking day, her eyes followed the nimble spectre as it leapt over the rocky terrain. She charged forward moving on her advantage and jumped to meet the wraith mid-air.

Lotor heard the wet smack of her staff contacting organic life. Another flash of energy dissipation and the princess rolled to the floor.

The apparition dropped from the sky. It landed awkwardly. Before it could regain its balance, the princess was attacking once more. She spun and landed a powerful blow across its midsection.

The being was thrown into the ravine’s wall in a plume of dust. Its red eyes blazed with the fury of a cornered animal. Smoke rolled off the creature in curling fumes.

In one final attack, it shrieked and staggered towards Lotor.

The prince instantly righted himself and braced for impact. He actually flinched when Allura cried out, extending her glowing hand. “Go!”

A blast as thick as Lotor’s leg shot through the cold air. It hit the spectre at its center.

An otherworldly scream shook through the air. It tore through Lotor’s mind. His heart leapt into his throat, but the awe-inspiring sight of power before him kept his eyes glued to the carnage.

The wraith expanded into a cloud of oily smoke before dispersing in a horrific screech… It fled as myriad blue wisps.

Chapter Text

Allura let out an exhausted breath. She was aware of his eyes staring into her.

What he saw, she was unsure. Part of her mournfully guessed that he only saw her as a tool, an instrument of warfare that could be manipulated. But the other part of her was hopeful. Maybe he could see past her potential and see her in the present. She longed for that. She yearned for the sensation more than anything else some nights. It was an unlikely fate, but the princess could hope.

She glanced up at the sky, noticing another change in the tumultuous weather. It was the forlorn feelings being amplified that caused the clouds to darken. She took stock of the situation in an effort to calm herself.

The wraith was gone. Lotor stood wearily and breathing heavily, watching her. The storm was so close now she could hear the sound of rain in the distance. Swirling, electrifying energy moved through the atmosphere in an almost tangible manner akin to the sweeping gale. There was a sickly feeling to the quintessence. It stained the prince, yet he was not engulfed in it. Yet. She could see it lapping at his resolve. One misstep or strong temptation and she may be thrown into a fight she loathed. Allura did not want to kill him.

It was a strange thought that after all the war, deceit, and hostility the two had witnessed and partook in, that she was hesitant to hurt him. Because it was neither of their faults. Because she cared about the glimmers of life she had seen under his cold, hard shell. Because underneath she saw a young man who, much like herself, was striving to repair a hole none should be responsible to fill.

She wondered if Lotor could sense her thoughts. A harsh breath of wind misted her face with cool liquid. As her connection with the aura around her snapped to a close, the profound thoughts did as well. Maybe she would never know what he saw in that moment.

His voice reinforced her return to the world around her.

“Allura.” He was unsure of himself. “I am glad to see you all right,” he said, sounding like he wanted to say more. “Thank you, princess. It seems I am in your debt once again.”

She turned around to meet his eyes. A tired, warm smile passed over her face. The radiance from her fiery Altean marks cast her features into soft relief.

Perhaps it was the ebbing adrenaline or the suddenly past circumstances, but Lotor was struck mute.

“Are you alright?” she asked reminded of the gentleness hidden, chained, deep within him.

He chastised himself for the second delay in his response. “Yes, just shaken,” he confessed. Focus. There are still threats in this realm. The voice broke the moment. It was right. The prince’s face hardened.

Her curiosity changed the subject quickly. “How did you get here?” She looked around, attempting to diffuse the situation. It was suddenly very cold in the ravine.

“I followed an essence,” Lotor described. He still had no idea how to put his experience in the cave into words. He felt a blush creep up his cheeks. Go on, it isn’t the stupidest thing you’ve admitted to her. “I came to find you.” He left the part about ‘rescuing’ her out.

Allura was genuinely surprised at the revelation. She couldn’t fight off the colour rising to her own cheeks. She broke the eye contact again. “Oh.” She quickly added. “I don’t know how I came here. I don’t know how to get out. I hope you have an idea.”

Lotor thought back to the route he had taken here. It had been a convoluted mess, but he was confident he could find it again. However, even if he found the place where he had entered the realm, he was uncertain if he would be able to… exit.

A near rumble reminded the two of the storm. It was nearly on top of them. Of course, the direction Lotor was considering laid that particular way.

He was acutely aware of Allura waiting on his explanation. She watched him expectantly.

“I came from the forest in that direction.” He pointed. His head tilted to one side as he attempted to put things into words. “The essence led me from a physical cave to this world through a gateway. I am not even sure if my physical form is, uh…” The prince was truly at a loss for words; a rarity.

“Occupied?” Allura offered. The way his ears picked up slightly piqued her attention and elicited the faintest smile.

“Yes,” he agreed. Lotor grimaced as another thought came to him. “I don’t know where yours is.”

Allura’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait, what?”

“You disappeared.” Lotor skipped over his encounter with the spirit in the generator. “When we entered that galran installation you went down a hallway while I took another.” Guilt stung but he ignored it for now. “I looked for you before Blue brought me to Euro 1 and I found the portal.”

The princess struggled to catch herself to speed. “My body is just… gone?!”

“At the moment,” Lotor conceded. His face tinged a darker purple. He had no idea why he was admitting this to her. I thought you cared. A hint of paranoia flitted at the back of his mind, but Lotor ignored that too.

 “Allura, I don’t know what is going on. I just…” It was difficult, almost physically difficult. Come on, go all the way if you’re so adamant. Don’t be a fool.

Lightening struck too close and both figures crouched and covered their heads. The crack of thunder reverberated through the mountains.

There was reignited haste in her voice. “We need to go.”

Lotor nodded. “Agreed.” All previous qualms disintegrated. “Which way princess?”

“I’m not sure,” Allura said. “But I don’t like the way those clouds look.”

Decide something. Lotor shivered. “Staying out of the storm’s path is probably best,” he stated unhelpfully.

The princess turned and began to head out the direction Lotor had originally been travelling, towards the pass cutting through the mountain range they now found themselves in. Now she needn’t worry about Lotor, but the endeavour of finding her way back to her own physical form. This place was getting better and better.

Chapter Text

Lotor was growing weary. This place was draining in a manner he had rarely experienced. Even Allura was showing signs of the attrition. He felt like he had been trudging over the rocky terrain for hours. Time was pointless here, but his mortal mind demanded structure.

One day it will be unnecessary.

Please stop. This place gave his doubts power. He could almost hear the words out loud. They carried close to him like a stray whisper: a conversation he had no desire to take part in, but the words haunted him. The presence was nothing new, but here it was so much more magnified.

Briefly, he wondered if Allura suffered the same as he. He glanced at her. She was leading the way, spurred onward as if by an invisible string. The way had been silent save the rich voice constantly interrupting Lotor’s thoughts.

Surely you don’t believe she is like you in any respect save your unfortunate lineage.

Lotor’s blood boiled. But the words continued.

You know what birthed me. She has no idea what you are capable of. She will never be like you and vice versa.

A stab of pain shot through his temples and Lotor bit his tongue, lest he grunt. His conscious control began to slip underneath him once again, collapsing on itself and sucking him along. He reached out a hand, attempting to ground himself before he lost himself in the flashback. It couldn’t happen right now, not with Allura right there…

I am the strongest part of you. I am the reason you are. Give in like hours before.

Why now? He bemoaned. This was bad. He needed to leave this forsaken place before he lost his composure. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Leave!

His fingers brushed the rough granite and reality snapped back with a jolt. He gasped, digging his nails into the craggy uneven surface of the rock.

“Lotor?” Allura started, turning to look at him.

“Sss –“ He caught himself before finishing the command. His body shivered but he was able to snap his face into impassivity before she caught the moment of vulnerability. Shame flooded him and under other circumstances he would have thrown himself into a rage.

Allura met his tumultuous orange eyes for a long time. She was cautious but sympathetic.

This cursed place amplified every one of his emotions.

“Are you all right?” The princess hazarded. She did not remove her gaze from his own.

“Yes,” he answered resolutely despite his trembling hands. He said nothing more, having not the heart to lie to her. He took a couple slow quiet breaths before straightening. His claws refused to retract so he curled them into fists. “This place is affecting me,” he confessed.

Her gaze immediately softened. “It’s pulling on me too.” She glanced back the way they came. “I’m starting to feel like we are going in circles as well. Maybe the way out is not any direction…”

Curiosity cleansed the remnants of his panic. “What are you thinking?”

Her brow furrowed. “If this place is a corridor within the walls of reality what is keeping us within it. What did we cross to get here?” She asked knowing the answer.

“The quintessence field,” Lotor stated. His thoughts picked up pace. The prince licked his lips. “Allura, when I entered this realm. I felt it. I felt that power.” He paused, realising that his words could very easily be misunderstood. “I did not know how to manipulate it, only how to let it take me.” He met her eyes. “But you can.”

She regarded him for a long time before looking to the ground. “I can’t,” she finally said.

Confusion laced his words. “Why not?”

“I won’t be able to,” she hedged.

He stifled frustration and dared to put a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve tapped into alchemy before. If we concentrate, maybe you can manifest a gateway. I can lend strength…” He trailed off.

“I don’t think I can. There is a darkness here, I can’t touch it. When I saved you from that wraith, Lotor, I pushed too far.” She shivered. “This place is corrupting.”

Lotor opened his mouth to argue otherwise but he snapped it shut when a harsh breeze cut through the two of them. Riding the wind, was a berating militant voice.

“That is why you must leave!” The voice commanded.

Chapter Text

Lotor whipped around, scanning the rocky crags and searching for the source of the words that had commended them to leave. Allura’s eyes wandered across the sky. He followed her gaze to the height of a stony outcropping.

Amidst the grey boulders sat a motionless stooped figure. His brilliant sapphire eyes glinted with half lidded mystery and his lengthy gold beard twitched in the wind. Stark white points adorned his high cheekbones. His grey tunic was worn and dirty. Galran symbols ran down the sleeves of the garment. Lotor only recognised one of the icons. It was the thorny triangular image still emblazoned across hundreds of older galran engineer battalions.

Lotor took a bold step forward. “And how might we do that?” He asked the man directly.

The Altean smiled grimly. “I can show you.”

Lotor sensed Allura’s words coming before the newcomer even finished his sentence. “You are Altean?! How did you get here?”

Silently, the prince cursed. The Altean indulged Allura’s questions. “Many Altean’s survived. Surely you don’t believe that all have perished.” The man briefly met Lotor’s eyes before continuing. “A culture is difficult to eradicate.”

The words seemed to drip with venomous accusation. Lotor’s heart beat a little faster and his expression became stony. Hide everything. She will not know. He’s bluffing. He can’t know. No one knows.  He looked down at Allura. There was much doubt in the woman’s face but also an unmistakable glimmer of hope. She was so naïve. His purpose changed instantly.

“You are a mirage. A spirit trapped here like us,” Lotor guessed.

Based on the Altean’s sudden attention, he deemed he hit close to mark. “You are a wise creature, half-blood.”

Lotor’s face remained stoic against the insult. “How did you get here?” He repeated, growing progressively infuriated with the man’s non-answers.

The Altean folded his hands politely as if he were about to lecture a particularly stupid group of students. “I am trapped.” He indicated the princess with his eyes. “The force you are wary to utilise is keeping me here. It is of my own alchemy from years ago. A diseased form of quintessence.” He sighed deeply. “It killed me and took on my behaviours and abilities.”

“A doppelgänger,” Allura pursed her lips. “Why were you experimenting with quintessence?”

The Altean smirked. “Ask your galra friend. They say addiction runs in blood.”

Alarms blared in Lotor’s mind and he struggled to keep from snapping. “Leave me out of this.” He didn’t look at the princess. “Zarkon’s experimentations with quintessence were known throughout the galaxies. I believe the princess intended to ask why you went along with my father’s whims.” It was a successful redirection.

“I was forced! Just like so many Alteans before me. Do not claim ignorance, Lotor. I” –

“Silence.” He could quickly lose ground in this battle. This being knew far too much. Eliminate the threat. The objective pounded into his head.

Allura unexpectedly interrupted. “You used your power to harm countless others,” she accused. “That was not Zarkon’s choice. What happened to everyone else on these planets? The other Alteans?”

Stop this. Redirect.

“I killed them,” the Altean admitted dryly. “Or, my doppelgänger killed them. Death was a far better alternative than suffering. I saw the carnage and attempted to destroy my creations before ridding the universe of myself. I could not be rid of my other half it seemed. It trapped me between realms: death and life, constantly draining me as an inner source of power. He is what is keeping all of us here.”

The Altean fixed Lotor with a hard gaze. “Lotor opened the portal, tapping into the evil here.”

“Lies,” Lotor snarled. He was acutely aware of the princess’ eyes boring into him. “I have no alchemic skill.” The words stung and dripped with bitterness. The truth hurts doesn’t it? Just like the doppelgänger you must rely on strength not your own. Anxiety peaked within his chest. He kept the emotions tightly reined in.

“Whether or not Lotor brought us here does not matter. How do we leave?” Allura asked exasperated.

A slow, menacing smile crept over the Altean’s face. “Kill my shadow and this prison will crumble.”

“How do we know you are not the evil one?” Allura asked with a raised eyebrow.

“He would not speak this way. He will not allow his own source of power to be destroyed. He relies on me. Such is the nature of those falsely strong. Destroy him and free me. With his grasp ruined all can go free, even the other Altean souls trapped here.”

The words twisted Lotor’s stomach. He is lying. He wishes us to succumb to his corrupted force. Lotor felt sick and enraged all at once. A mirror of you. Look closely, that withered husk before us is your image. Kill him.

His inner battle heated similar to the discourse happening between the Altean and the princess. Those words faded into the background. “That is not an answer,” she was saying, attempting diplomacy like she was raised.

Suddenly several forces were pulling him. Another whisper promised power through tapping into the forbidden pool. I don’t know. He schooled his outward expression to stoicism. Sweat treasonously beaded on his forehead.

Kill them both then take his strength. They are both weak. Use this place as before in the knowledge of his schemes. You can harness quintessence! Here is the steppingstone. You will not need neither him nor her nor this place! Kill them then revel in your power and discard all that is left. All that is not your own.

I need her.

Here is the key.

It is not purest quintessence. It is sullied…

Like you. How fitting.

Stop.

If it were not for me, we would not be here, filth. Listen. Remember!

Images and flashes burst into life around him as he wrestled with his other half.

 

***

In a cold, silent capital ship Lotor huddled alone in a massive chamber. He sat with knees pressed against his chest and back nestled against the foot of an empty command chair. Breathing came in ragged agonising huffs. His hands shook as panic induced seizures wracked his body every hour. Golden irises glowed dully from his swollen eyes. The young half-breed ached from last night.  

He wanted to die. Why hadn’t his father just killed him? He was alone. A haze fell over his mind, making thinking even the simplest things difficult. Yesterday’s events dominated the only conscious thoughts flashing through him. He was so tired.

“Stop it,” he feebly attempted to tell himself. The adolescent knuckled his eyes hard to stop the tears. He yearned for warm arms to hold him. Even a small touch on the back, everything he never had yet he witnessed wherever he went. His father held the galaxy but Lotor lacked this one thing and it stung. It hurt to be so alone. Even just a soft contact… just a gentle brush of skin…

Lotor hugged himself like he had done so many times before.

Maybe he only wanted to hear the words as company. Was that wrong? “Stop crying.”

The seconds trickled away for what felt like an eternity. The prince filled the silence with quiet sniffling. Then a deep, mournful laugh echoed through the chamber. He was unaware that it was his own. “We don’t need anyone. That does not make us alone.”

He forced Lotor to smile. “Stand up. Even bad days must end.”

***

 

Lotor shook the memory away. It clawed onto him like thick webs from the Blephnics of Fendor’s moons. The trying forces around him seized his soul and rent it in three different directions. Here, it felt physical though he knew the enter exercise was purely of spirit. He was not used to this form of warfare.

You’ve never listened. You’ve gone off your emotional urges this entire time. I am sanity. I am logic. You are insane without me. Just like your cursed father.

Lotor growled irately. “Lies!” Instinct took him in his entirety. A heavy, angular sword revealed itself in his grasp.

Allura gasped and was thrown back from the force of Lotor and the Altean’s weapons meeting in a lock.

The Altean showed teeth in a gruesome smile. “You are following ghosts, boy!”

Lotor had no words. Hatred drowned every last sentiment.

The battle was quick. Lotor suddenly broke the draw, pirouetting to the left and dropping into a low crouch. The Altean was no swordsman. The move took the man off balance. Lotor merely braced himself and caught the man on his sword. It sliced cleanly making a wet s noise as it dug deeply into the Altean. The body crumpled like a deflated balloon onto the rocky soil, bleeding violet fumes. He white markings on his face clouded.

Adrenaline burned through his veins like fire. He did not meet the princess’s eyes. He felt like falling on his own sword. All for what? All this for what? Anguish tore at the stitches holding him together. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. He had made difficult decisions many times in the past. This one was finally his own.

His fey despair was cut short by a ground shaking explosion from the direction of the storm.